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Full text of "Villiers de l'Isle Adam; his life and works, from the French of Vicomte Robert du Pontavice de Heussey"

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from the French of 

Vicomte Robertldu Pontavice de Heussey 
By Lady Mary Loyd 


William Heinemann 

All rights reserved. 










HE writings of Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam are so little known in this 
country, that it may not be out 
of place, before the adventurous 
reader embarks on the perusal of the follow- 
ing recollections, to endeavour, in the most 
cursory manner, to give some details concern- 
ing them. 

The most stinging satire and the most 
radiant fancy ; the keenest appreciation of 
nature, especially in her gloomier and more 
mysterious moods, and a constant endeavour 
to enforce the immutable truths of religion 
and morality, and the inevitable results of 
their contravention, run through all his 
stories. And nothing more genuinely witty 
can be imagined than some of his sketches 


of the more peculiarly Bohemian side of 
Parisian life. The characteristic of Villiers' 
work which must strike the thoughtful stu- 
dent most, is its magnificent thoroughness. 
Every one of his tales bears the impress, not 
only of laborious preparation, but of the most 
conscientious elaboration. So that every 
word, as it finally stands, is indispensable to 
the true comprehension of the author's mean- 
ing. And this meaning, again, is almost 
always of the highest; the satire, grave or gay, 
good-humoured or severe, always tending to 
the support of what is true and noble, and to 
the punishment (or, at all events, the dis- 
countenance) " of wickedness and vice." 

The poet's immediate friends may have 
blamed and deplored the extreme Bohemian- 
ism into which his needy circumstances drove 
him. We, who inherit the result of his life- 
work a work accomplished in the face of 
constant difficulty and discouragement can 
have no room for any feeling but admiration 
for the man who never published a line with- 
out giving it the highest polish he was capable 
of imparting. 


No modern writer, with the exception, 
perhaps, of Edgar Poe, whom Villiers so 
passionately admired, has his power of digni- 
fying the horrible. And none, I believe (not 
even Pierre Loti, that master of the art of 
portraying nature, to the extent of making 
his readers actually feel the heat of the sun 
and the damp of the fog he describes), excels 
him in calling up, and in the fewest words, 
the beauty of an autumn sunset, the dreariness 
of a wild winter night, the horror of a long 
corridor in one of the prisons of the Spanish 
Inquisition, 1 or the exotic bloom of certain 
phases of existence in Paris. 2 Brevity, they 
say, is the soul of wit. Truly, in this case, 
brevity is the strength of style, and it is not 
easy, on a first perusal, to realize the con- 
centrated power this same well-considered 
brevity gives to that of Villiers de 1'Isle 

Of his life I will say nothing. Its story 
is unfolded in the pages which succeed this 

1 " La Torture par 1'Esperance." 

2 "Le Convive des dernieres Fetes," "Antonia," 
" L'Enjeu." 


note. A sad enough story it is, full of 
struggle and failure, of brilliant hopes and 
bitter deceptions. The history of a great 
soul, full of that peculiar simplicity and un- 
fitness for coping with everyday cares which 
so often accompany genius ; and with that 
sad and too common close, so eternally dis- 
honouring to the public which turns a deaf 
ear to the living charmer, charm he never so 
wisely death in an hospital ward, followed 
by paeans of admiration when the brave 
heart that had vainly ached for just one 
responsive throb was stilled in the silence 
of the grave. 

There is a growing interest among culti- 
vated people on this side of the Channel in 
the extraordinary development of literature 
in its most brilliant form on the other, and 
I feel convinced that this sketch of the life 
and works of one who, neglected and de- 
preciated as he was to within a few months 
of his premature death by all but a select 
few, is now acclaimed as one of the chief 
glories of modern literary France, will be 
heartily welcomed by the many sympathetic 


English admirers of our gifted neighbours, 
and that the knowledge they may thereby 
acquire of the great French writer's life and 
labour will inspire them with a desire to be- 
come acquainted with the remarkable group 
of tales, plays, and novels on which his 
reputation rests. 



HE author of the following recol- 
leclions has passed into the silent 
country while the sheets of this 
translation were being prepared 
for the press. The thought that his book 
was about to be presented to the English 
public helped to cheer the last months of a 
long and trying illness. And to that public 
I submit these pages, in the confident belief 
that those who have the patience to read 
them will share my admiration for the grace- 
ful talent of their author, and will regret with 
me that one who might yet, if he had been 
spared, have done much invaluable work in 
literature and literary research, should have 
been cut off prematurely, " in the flower of 
his days." 

Eeqtmgfcat in pace, 



First meeting Family ties Illustrious origin of 
Villiers Genealogy of the family of L'Isle Adam 
The old Emigre's Good King Louis XVIII. 
and M. de Villiers Motto and coat-of-arms of 
the family The Curd of Ploumilliau Villiers at 
the parsonage " L'Intersigne " His parents 
Genealogy of the De Carfort Aunt Kerinou 
Peculiarities of the Marquis de ITsle Adam 
His golden dream The inheritance seeker 
The treasure seeker 


Birth of Villiers de ITsle Adam His baptism 
His childhood Stolen by mountebanks School 
life St. Brieuc Laval Rennes His first poem 
His early portrait " L' Amour et la Mort " 
Elegy Literary plans Family devotion and 
tenderness " Our Matthias " Departure for 







Paris The reign of the common-place in literature 
The poets The defenders of the Beautiful 
"Le Parnasse Contemporain " "Les Parnas- 
siens " Catulle Mendes and the " Revue Fan- 
taisiste " Triumphal entry of Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam First Poems Friendships Ste"phane 
Mallarme and Leon Dierx " Claire Lenoir " 
Appearance of Dr. Triboulat Bonhomet A few 
words touching this personage " Le Roman 
d'une Nuit," by Catulle Mendes Death of the 
" Revue Fantaisiste "The Blue Dragon Hotel 
The Rue de Douai Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, 
according to Frangois Coppe"e 37 


Early influences Charles Baudelaire My father 
His relations with Villiers Their intimacy 
The Hotel d'Orleans Literary and philosophical 
gatherings Le"on Cladel Villiers and the 
Hegelian philosophy "Isis" The Princess 
Tullia Fabriana Preface Eccentricities of style 
The original of Doctor Bonhomet Doctor C. 
"Ellen" and " Morgane " Sensations of 
loneliness The Marquis de ITsle Adam con- 
tinues at Paris the course of his profitable 
financial operations The poisoner, Comte 
Courty de la Pommerais The apartment in the 
Rue St. Honore" The marquis Aunt Kerinou 
Matthew's decorations 52 




The legend of the hoaxer hoaxed The succession 
to the throne of Greece Villiers de ITsle Adam 
a candidate for the throne " Le Lion de 
Numidie " " The Moor of Venice " Nemesis 
An imperial audience The Marquis and 
Baron Rothschild The Due de Bassano and 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam The last aft of the 
comedy A poet's conclusion Death of Aunt 
Kerinou Separation 70 


My return to Paris The Hotel d'Orleans My 
search for Villiers Our reunion The earlier 
stages of his lawsuit The historical drama of 
"Perrinet Leclerc" Paul Cleves, director of 
the Porte St. Martin Theatre The Marechal 
Jean de ITsle Adam, according to Messrs. 
Lockroy and Anicet Bourgeois Villiers' fury 
Letters to the press A summons A memo- 
randum Intervention of M. de Villiers Provo 
cation A duel arranged Settlement on the 
ground Result of the action Biographer's 
reservations Documentary evidence .... 87 


Le Pin Galant, near Bordeaux Arrival of Villiers 
with his play "The New World" The Ameri- 
can centenary competition The character of 
Mrs. Andrews The legend of Ralph Evandale . 116 

xviii CONTENTS. 



Villiers' rage against the members of the jury 
Dramatic scene at the house of Victor Hugo 
Villiers leaves Paris The Bordeaux theatres 
Godefrin, director of the Theatre Frangais An 
extraordinary reading Little Mdlle. Aimee 
Madame Aimee Tessandier 131 


Restful days The real Villiers Villiers and the 
fair sex Talks about bygone days Charles 
Baudelaire His true nature His strange home- 
life Jeanne Duval Edgar Poe Richard Wag- 
ner " Axel " The Cabala and the occult 
sciences Villiers' religious sentiments Quota- 
tions " L'Eve Future " 144 


A metamorphosis An ambitious pastry-cook 
Appearance of the newspaper, " La Croix et 
1'Epee " Its political, artistic, and literary pro- 
gramme Lord E W . His strange 

suicide The wax figure A nocturnal conversa- 
tion The American engineer and his master, 
Edison First conception of "L'Eve Future" 
Villiers de ITsle Adam and Thomas Alva 
Edison 157 




Villiers' absent-mindedness His terrible careless- 
ness His departure from Bordeaux Godefrin's 
despair A year later Bohemian poverty A 
justification Want of money Villiers' diffi- 
culties His pride His artistic conscientious- 
ness Drumont's book Villiers and the young 
Jew A good answer Villiers' manner of life 
His midnight wanderings His dislike of day- 
light Villiers and Anatole France 165 


1879 The Rue des Martyrs and the Rue Roche- 
chouart The poet's room His extraordinary 
indifference Leon Dierx " La DeVouee " 
Strange habits Villiers in the street The 
Boulevard Montmartre Nocturnal declama- 
tions Villiers as a composer Two operas, 
" Esmeralda " and " Prometheus " Melomania 
Villiers as a musical performer A strange 
couple 178 


First introduction of Wagner and Villiers at the 
house of Charles Baudelaire Failure of "Tann- 
hauser " at the Paris Opera in 1861 Portrait 
and character of Richard Wagner His friends 
and champions His intimacy with Villiers 



Reminiscences of his youth and early poverty 
Augusta Holmes Villiers' visit to Triebchen 
The "Rheingold" at Munich Villiers de 
1'Isle Adam's artistic confession of faith . . . 202 


The marquis and the marquise Villiers' filial ten- 
derness A monomania for speculation A letter 
from the marquis Villiers' contributions to the 
press The "Figaro" "La Republique des 
Lettres " Catulle Mendes J. K. Huysmans 
The "Contes Cruels" Two quotations Villiers' 
high spirits His loss of illusion A study by 
M. G. Guiches Villiers as a talker and a mimic 
Some unpublished traits of Dr. Triboulat 
Bonhomet Bonhomet the commander-in-chief 
Bonhomet the ermine-hunter Bonhomet ful- 
filling the letter of the Scriptures Bonhomet's 
true adventures at Bayreuth The political 
opinions of Villiers de ITsle Adam An un- 
expected toast A rupture 219 


Fragments of a journal kept in 1879 A woman of 
fashion bewitched Villiers and Mar Yvonne 
A mystery Villiers a candidate at the elections 
of the Conseil General Opinions of the press 
Meetings The plans of the future councillor 
My departure from Paris Our separation 
Description of Villiers in 1880 by G. Guiches . 237 




Closing years Birth of a son Villiers' widow 
Little Totor and his father Success of the 
" Contes Cruels " Appearance of " L'Eve 
Future" in the "Gaulois" The "Vie Moderne" 
The murderous treatment of the " Nouveau 
Monde " at the Theatre des Nations The deaths 
of the marquis and the marquise J. K. Huysmans 
"A Rebours " His opinion of Villiers' work 
" Triboulat Bonhomet " " Propos d'au-dela" 
" Akedysseril " " L' Amour Supreme " 
" L'Eve Future " Lectures in Belgium Return 
to Paris Prosperity " Histoires Insolites " 
" Nouveaux Contes Cruels" "Axel" Sick- 
ness Letter from J. K. Huysmans, detailing the 
last moments and the death of Villiers Con- 
clusion 251 


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First meeting Family ties Illustrious origin of Villiers 
Genealogy of the family of L'Isle Adam The old 
Emigres Good King Louis XVIII. and M. de 
Villiers Motto and coat-of-arms of the family 
The Cure of Ploumilliau Villiers at the parsonage 
"L'Intersigne" His Parents Genealogy of the De 
Carforts Aunt Kerinou Peculiarities of the Mar- 
quis de 1'Isle Adam His golden dream The 
inheritance seeker The treasure seeker. 

NE Thursday morning in Novem- 
ber, 1858, I was in the dining- 
room of my father's house at 
Fougeres. I was eating my sad 
and solitary luncheon under the eye of a cross 
old nurse ; and my heart swelled as I looked 


at the cheerful winter sun outside the window 
panes, and thought of my brothers, more 
fortunate than myself, who were frolicking 
through the leafless woods which so pictu- 
resquely crown the village of St. Germain. 
There my grandfather lived, in an old manor- 
house amongst the trees, and every Thurs- 
day, according to custom, my family spent the 
day with him. This time I had been left 
behind, as a punishment for some childish 
misdemeanour or some ill-learnt lesson. 

Suddenly I heard the rumble of a carriage 
on the rough pavement of our street, gene- 
rally as silent as the grave, and soon I saw a 
hired chaise stop before our windows. I 
know not why my heart began to beat so fast 
when the bell (pulled by a vigorous hand) 
clanged noisily. A moment after, the door 
of the dining-room opened, and a fair young 
man with a large head, and wrapped in rich 
furs, rushed in like a whirlwind. He vaulted 
lightly over the table at which I was sitting, 
and lifting me up, before I had recovered 
from my astonishment, he kissed me heartily, 
saying, " Good day, my little man you don't 


know me ! I am your cousin Matthias ! " 
But I did know him well ! For long he had 
filled my childish imagination, haunted already 
by the demon of literature. How often had 
I listened open-mouthed, forgetful of my 
plate, while my father recounted at the family 
board the adventures, the oddities, the traits 
of genius of Cousin Matthias! True, I un- 
derstood but vaguely what my father meant, 
but it had for me all the mysterious charm of 
the unknown. Meanwhile the unexpected 
guest had asked for food, having come straight 
from Paris, without warning, as was his way. 
I see him now, opposite me, eating heartily, 
asking me questions, laughing at my prattle 
(he had put me at my ease at once), and stop- 
ping every now and then to push back with 
his hand a thick lock of fair hair which kept 
falling over his eyes. 

" You know," said he to my astounded 
attendant, " I am off to St. Germain, the little 
chap with me. When / come, all punish- 
ments are stopped." 

Willy nilly, she had to wrap me in my 
cloak and comforter ! Ten minutes later 


Cousin Matthias and I, seated in the little 
hired gig, were bowling along the frosty road 
which led from the town of Fougeres to the 
village of St. Germain. 

Such was my first never-to-be-forgotten 
meeting with Philip Augustus Matthias de 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, then in all the bloom 
of his youth and the first blush of his won- 
derful genius his brow and eyes radiant 
with those beautiful illusions, those glorious 
dreams, which attended his entrance into life, 
which never abandoned him in his saddest 
hours, and whose melancholy phantoms 
hovered over the hospital bed on which he 
died, high-spirited to the last, hopeful and 

As has been seen, our families were kin. 
But I think that the cousinship between 
Villiers and my father, and later, by inheri- 
tance, between Villiers and myself, was more 
intellectual than anything else. The family 
bond which unites us seems to me very slight. 
It should be sought, I think, in the alliance 
of both our families with that of De Kersauson. 
But that is little matter. What is far more 


urgent is to establish the absolutely incon- 
testable nobility of the origin of the great 
writer. In his lifetime a sort of mysterious 
legendary haze gathered round his personality, 
and I fancy he rather enjoyed deepening the 
fog. At all events, such was his hatred of 
all that was conventional, that his Titanic 
dreams became historical facts concerning 
which he would admit of no discussion. All 
those who have heard him speak of his an- 
cestors, of their riches, of " the stately sea- 
beaten manor-house," in which his early 
youth was passed, will understand, without 
further insisting, what I mean. Yet, in those 
rare, and for him, wearisome moments, when 
he returned to earth, Villiers knew his family 
history perfectly, and in its minutest detail. 
He had studied the subject profoundly, and 
his genius illuminated for him all that was 
prosaic and dull in provincial and Parisian 
archives. I know a certain work of his, 
dealing Avith the life of the Marechal de 
Villiers de Tlsle Adam, which is a master- 
piece of clearness, eloquent expression, and 
erudition. I will return to it at a more 


opportune moment. At present I am chiefly 
concerned with the poet's origin. 

The illustrious family of Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam, Seigneurs de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam 
and de Chailly, originated in the He de 
France. Several knights of the name took 
part in the Crusades, others occupied the 
highest positions about the court and in the 
army. In fa6l, the brilliant name of Villiers 
de 1'Isle Adam is constantly flashing across 
the pages of our history. But the most cele- 
brated amongst these great noblemen, too 
well known for me to add anything to what 
has already been written concerning them, 
are, in order of date : Pierre, who was Grand- 
master and Porte Oriflamme of France in 
1355; Jean, Marshal of France in 1437; 
and Philippe, Grand Master of the Order of 
the Knights of Malta, the heroic defender 
of the Island of Rhodes against Suliman in 
1521. The nephew of this last, Francois, 
Marquis de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, was 
"Grand Louvetier de France " in 1550. The 
grandson of Francois married, about 1670, a 
daughter of the old house of De Courson, and 


settled in the bishopric of St. Brieuc, where 
he founded the Breton branch of the Villiers 
de 1'Isle Adam family. The grandson of this 
last, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, married 
in his turn, in 1780, a Mdlle. de Kersauson. 
At the time of the Revolution, he emigrated 
to England with his family. And here should 
be related an incident which has an important 
bearing on the curious lawsuit brought by 
Villiers against the descendants of the come- 
dian Lockroy, an action of which I shall give 
the details when I come to that part of the 
poet's life in which it occurred. 

At the time of the Revolution the house 
of De 1'Isle Adam had greatly declined from 
its ancient splendour. I will not go into the 
causes of this change ; suffice it to say, that 
when the naval officer emigrated with those 
belonging to him, his income barely sufficed 
for the strictest necessaries of life. It follows, 
that once established abroad, he did not for 
sometime attempt to return. Meanwhile, the 
Bourbons having returned to France, all the 
so-called servants of the august exiles were 
clamouring for the reward of their services. 


A certain Mons. de Villiers Deschamps, a 
rich man, and an excellent royalist, asked 
permission to revive the name of De 1'Isle 
Adam, which he affirmed to be completely 
extinct, and to which a distant relationship 
gave him a claim. Good Louis XVIII., 
delighted with a petition which would cost 
him nothing but a signature, granted without 
hesitation the prayer of his loyal subject. 
Thus it came about, that until the day when 
its luxurious peace was disturbed by the poet's 
inopportune interference, the family of De 
Villiers, all unconscious of the fraud, bore an 
illustrious name and a famous coat-of-arms to 
which it had no earthly title. 

As I have spoken of the arms of the De 
Villiers, this may be the proper place to 
describe them : " D'or au chef d'azur charge 
d'un dextrochere vetu d'un fanon d'hermines." 
Mottoes : " Va oultre ! " and also " La main 
a 1'ceuvre." 

All those familiar with Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam and his wonderful books, will recog- 
nize that these two proud mottoes seem to 
have been made for him. 


" Va oultre ! " " Go fonvard ! " This is what 
he always did. His clear, prophetic glance 
piercing the heavens, and reaching in its 
impetuous and aspiring flight far beyond the 
horizon of ordinary human thought ! " La 
main a 1'ceuvre ! " " Hand at work ! " Yes, 
ceaselessly at work, even in the darkest hours 
of misery, that hand of the artist and the 
gentleman, at once so delicate and so brave, 
whose labour only rested in death ! In his 
last days he used to watch, sadly enough, the 
failing strength of those poor brave hands 
which could no longer hold the pen, and he 
uttered one night, to one of his faithful friends, 
this phrase, which sounds like a knell, " Look ! 
my flesh is ripening for the tomb." 

I return to my story. The old emigrt 
marquis, Armand, not choosing to leave the 
bones of a Yilliers de 1'Isle Adam in England, 
returned to France towards 1820, and died, 
soon after the birth of the poet, in a little 
manor-house, whose only tower overlooks the 
port of Legue and the tossing expanse of the 
Bay of St. Brieuc. He left four children, 
two sons and two daughters. One, Gabrielle, 


became a nun, and died not long ago, a sister 
of the Sacre Coeur de Jesus. The other 
married, when no longer young, a Mons. du 
Rumain. This worthy couple never showed 
any great tenderness for their nephew, either 
during his life or after his death. The 
youngest brother, Victor, entered the priest- 
hood very early in life. He was a wise and 
saintly man. He refused all honours, and 
would never leave the poor parish of Plou- 
milliau, of which he was for half a century 
the devoted rector. His nephew has dedi- 
cated to him one of the most extraordinary 
of his tales, " L'Intersigne." It was written 
in 1875 in the presbytery of the good and 
simple priest ; and the sojourn of the great 
and unhappy poet (whose life at that time 
was all storm, agitation, and care) in the 
peace of that quiet retreat, inspired him with 
these wonderful lines, which none who knew 
and loved him can read without emotion : 

" The rural aspect of this house, with its 
green-shuttered windows, its three stone steps, 
its tangle of ivy, clematis, and tea-roses, 
covering the walls and reaching the roof 


(whence a little cloud of smoke escaped 
through a chimney topped by a vane), in- 
spired me with a feeling^of calm, of well-being, 
of profound peace. The trees of a neigh- 
bouring orchard showed through the trellised 
enclosure, their leaves all rusted by the ex- 
hausting summer heats. The two windows 
of the only storey shone with the western 
fire. Between them was a hollow niche 
holding the image of some happy saint. 
Silently I dismounted, fastening my horse 
to the window-shutter, and as I raised 
the knocker I cast a traveller's glance at 
the horizon behind me. But so brightly 
did that horizon shine over the wild and 
distant forests of oak and pine, whither the 
last birds were winging their belated way, 
so solemnly did the waters of a distant reed- 
covered lake reflect the sky, so beautiful 
was nature in the calm air of that deserted 
spot, at that moment when the silence falls, 
that I stood mute, the knocker still dangling 
in my grasp. ' O thou ! ' I thought, ' who 
findest not the refuge of thy dreams, and to 
whom, after many a weary march 'neath cruel 


stars so joyful at the start, so saddened 
now the land of Canaan with its palm-trees 
and running waters comes not with the dawn. 
Heart made for other exile than that whose 
bitterness thou sharest with brothers who 
love thee not! Behold, here mayst thou sit 
thee down upon the stone of melancholy 
here mayst thou dream such dreams as might 
haunt thee in the tomb, wouldst thou truly 
desire to die ! Come hither, then, for here 
the sight of the heavens shall transport thee 
into oblivion ! " I cite this passage, not only 
because it seems to me to be exceedingly 
beautiful, but because it really is a psycho- 
logical document one of the very rare in- 
stances in which a writer has permitted his 
published work to reflecl: his personal emo- 

The renunciation of the world by the 
young sister and brother of Villiers was not 
perhaps altogether the result of an irresistible 
vocation. In these old races, the family 
spirit is traditional, and the sacrifice of the 
earthly interest of its younger members on 
the altar of the birthright of the eldest, is 


still not imfrequently made. However this 
may have been, the Marquis Joseph de 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, Knight of the Order 
of Malta " de la Langue de France," remained 
in consequence of that fact the only repre- 
sentative of his mighty line. He obtained a 
dispensation from the Pope, and married 
Mdlle. Marie Frangoise le Nepveu de Car- 
fort, who was the mother of our Villiers. 
The Marquis de 1'Isle Adam did not dero- 
gate from his dignity by allying himself with 
this family. The knight Roland de Carfort 
took the Cross in 1248. In 1370 Olivier 
de Carfort allied himself with the Dukes of 
Brittany. At the time of the first reform of 
the nobility in 1669, the De Carfort family 
proved seven generations. It appears in the 
registers of nobility from 1425 to 1535, for 
the parishes of Cesson, Le Fceil, St. Turiaff, 
and Plaintel, in the bishopric of St. Brieuc. 
The Nepvou, or Le Nepveu, were lords of 
Carfort, Beruen, La Roche, Crenan, Du Clos, 
La Cour, La Ville Anne, Lescouet, and La 
Coudraye. They bore as arms, " De gueules 
a six billettes d'argent, 3, 2, i au chef de meme." 


I ask indulgence for my long dissertation 
on these genealogical details. There was 
but one weak spot in the coat of mail woven 
of pride and haughty scorn with which Vil- 
liers endued himself before he descended 
into the terrible lists of life. The polished 
vipers of the boulevards, the jealous carrion- 
crows of literature, knew well that to poison 
and wound this invulnerability, their bites and 
their beak-thrusts must be directed against 
his family pride. They did not fail to do it ! 
His right to everything was disputed, ances- 
tors, nobility, his very name ! Villiers used to 
roar like a lion stung by poisonous flies. 
But good, clear, precise proofs are worth 
more to the adlual public than the loudest 
roars, and if in that country beyond the grave 
he still troubles concerning trivial earthly 
matters, he will rejoice that his Breton cousin 
has endeavoured to establish incontestably 
his relationship with those heroes of the sword 
from whom, himself a hero of the pen, he so 
worthily descended. 

Unfortunately, it is possible to be at the 
same time exceedingly well-born and exces- 


sively poor ; and Mdlle. de Carfort was no 
richer than the marquis. Nevertheless, thanks 
to an old aunt, Mdlle. Daniele Kerinou, who 
had adopted her and who possessed a modest 
competence ; thanks, too, to some remnants of 
fortune, and to the fabulous cheapness of life 
in Brittany in those days, the household 
might have lived with dignity, dividing the 
year between the modest residence on the 
sea-coast and the little old house in the Rue 
Houvenagues at St. Brieuc. But the singular 
disposition and the perilous whimsicality of 
the head of the family spoilt everything. 

I do not believe that there has ever existed 
either in reality or in fiction a character more 
extraordinary than that of the father of Villiers. 
To depict it, even approximately, would need 
all the raciness of Dickens, all the profound 
power of observation of Balzac. And besides, 
I should be carried too far by the subject. 
I will content myself, therefore, with sketching 
one salient trait of this wonderfully original 
man. The Marquis de 1'Isle Adam was 
possessed with an effulgent dazzling vision of 
gold. His son was haunted in the same way, 


and he has thus described himself in one of 
his novels : " My sole inheritance, alas ! has 
consisted in his dazzling hopes and dreams ! 
Indifferent to the political cares of the century 
and of the Fatherland indifferent, too, to the 
temporary results of the criminal failures of 
their representatives I linger to gaze upon 
the reddening crests of the neighbouring 
forest ; instinctively, though why I know not, 
I shun the ill-omened moonlight and the 
noxious presence of my fellow-men. Yes, I 
shun them ! For I feel that I bear in my 
soul the reflected glory of the barren wealth 
of many a forgotten king." 

But whereas the writer found in the exer- 
cise of his art an outlet for his besetting idea, 
and a defence against its allurements, the 
marquis formed the wild project of realizing 
his visions by becoming a man of business. 
And a singular business man was he this 
tall, thin marquis ! Always in the clouds full 
of morgue, and haughty as a descendant of the 
" Porte Oriflamme of France " might well be ; 
gifted, truly, with an all-devouring activity, 
but spending it all in placing shares in the 


most chimerical of undertakings ! He asserted, 
and with some show of reason, that during 
the Revolution, and the troublous times that 
ensued, many inheritances were wrongly as- 
signed to people who had no right to them, 
and this to the detriment of the real heirs. 
On this supposition his principal speculation 
depended. He undertook, in consideration 
of a certain percentage, to have restored to 
the injured families the properties which were 
theirs by right. This brilliant project once 
formed, the marquis went forth, beating up 
the country in every direction, searching 
private libraries, public archives, and church 
registers ; talking to old people, and accumu- 
lating a formidable mass of information. 
Then, when he considered himself sufficiently 
armed, apprizing those who were most inte- 
rested. Some, seduced by the hope of gain, 
allowed themselves to be tempted, and after 
long and expensive litigation, ended by con- 
signing the marquis and his imaginary in- 
heritances to all the gods of Erebus. This 
discoverer of doubtful inheritances soon be- 
came the terror of every attorney, lawyer, 



and sheriffs' officer in Lower Brittany. For 
his haughty self-confidence carried him every- 
where, into every office, every agency ; and 
his cool pride, his aristocratic ways, and his 
illustrious name, awed the worthy scriveners 
of a remote province, where people are still 
simple enough to respect certain things. It 
will easily be conceived that such under- 
takings and the failure which generally crowned 
them, far from augmenting the redoubtable 
marquis's income, made fresh gaps in his 

And the second speculation undertaken by 
this astonishing person was as fantastic as 
the first. Dreaming, as he did incessantly, 
of delusive treasure, he soon began to imagine 
that it existed elsewhere than in his own 
fancy. He persuaded himself that the soil of 
old Armorica concealed subterranean caves, 
mute guardians of the fabulous riches placed 
in them by former generations in times of 
trouble and civil war. 

Where, for example, was the huge fortune 
of the Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, which had 
enabled them to take rank amongst the most 


gorgeous courtiers of France ? The seeker 
of inheritances became a treasure seeker, and 
set himself to work with the same ardour 
and conviction as heretofore. In the neigh- 
bourhood of Quintin stood the ruins of an 
old castle, which had formerly belonged to the 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. The marquis bought 
a concession, hired labourers, and set about 
his researches. I know not whether he had 
discovered in his family archives, some proof, 
or even any vague indication, which might 
lead to success. His son was convinced he 
had. He has spoken to me very seriously 
and eloquently of this treasure, buried for 
centuries ; he has shown me the plan of the 
subterranean hiding-place, and he endeavoured 
to find capitalists to assist his father in com- 
pleting his excavations. 

Fortunately money was not to be had, and 
Villiers, not having been able to carry out 
this dream in a practical way, has realized it 
in a wonderful manner in one of his most 
powerful works. I speak of the book entitled 
" Le Vieux de la Montagne," the full and 
complete manuscript of which I have held 



in my hands. This drama, according to the 
poet's design, should have immediately fol- 
lowed that of " Axel," of which it is the 
continuation, as " The Adoration of the 
Magi " is the conclusion. 


Birth of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam His baptism His 
childhood Stolen by mountebanks School life 
St. Brieuc Laval Rennes His first poem 
His early portrait "L'Amour et la Mort" Elegy 
Literary plans Family devotion and tenderness 
" Our Matthias " Departure for Paris. 

H I LE her husband was thus spend- 
ing himself in a feverish and ruinous 
activity, the gentle and delicate 
marquise lived sadly on at home 
in the company of her good aunt Kerinou. 
The existence of these two women was solitary 
and sad, the anxiety which the undertakings 
of the head of the family caused Mdme. de 
1'Isle Adam alone breaking its monotony; 
but a fervent piety, a rare gentleness of soul, 
and a strong hope in the goodness of God, 
supported her through life. Her faith was at 


last rewarded, and God granted her most 
ardent desire, by sending her in November, 
1838, a son who was the joy, the belief, the 
hope, and the pride of her simple existence. 
Never did a great artist have a more admir- 
able mother ! During her long life she never 
wavered once in her faith in him, and in his 
genius. She believed in her son with the same 
simpletrust with which she believed in her God. 
It is easy to conceive with what joy the 
advent of this child was hailed by these two 
lonely women. Here was a being to love, to 
cherish, to bring up sunshine breaking in 
upon the monotony of their darkness. The 
marquis, too, was radiant as he gazed on this 
offshoot of the Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. Here 
-was someone who would restore the glory of 
the old race. Ah! he would endow his son 
with fabulous wealth. He would force the 
earth to render up the treasure hidden in 
its breast ! Back he went to his excava- 
tions, the marquise and her aunt seeing him 
depart this time with less regret, for hope and 
consolation smiled on the two good women 
from the baby's cradle. 


The Bishop of St. Brieuc stood godfather 
to the new-comer, and baptized him, 28th 
November, 1838, in the presence of his grand- 
father, his father, and Mdlle. de Kerinou. 
The venerable prelate bestowed on his godson 
his own Christian name of Matthias. 

I have no intention of following step by 
step the progress of the childhood of Villiers ; 
the most talented biographers of famous men 
have seldom succeeded in making the early 
years of their heroes interesting. For child- 
hood is above all things a period of silent 
incubation, during which soul and mind are 
secretly and laboriously developed. One 
incident of these first years spent at St. Brieuc 
must, however, be reported, for later the ima- 
gination of Villiers embroidered it with fan- 
tastic details. He was about seven years old, 
when his nurse lost him out walking. A 
band of strolling mountebanks, who were 
going to Brest, met the strayed child, and 
looking on the sprightly fair-haired boy as 
their legitimate prize, laid hands on him. 
Some days later his father found him at Brest 
in the booth of his strolling captors. He was 


already the pet of the company, and there 
appeared to be such a bond of affection 
between the chief of the poor rope-dancers 
and the boy, that the marquis, overjoyed to 
get back his son, relinquished all idea of pro- 
secution. Those who were acquainted with 
Villiers will easily imagine what wonderful 
and humorous tales he would weave out of 
such an adventure. It was worth listening 
to, when, in picturesque style, he would con- 
jure up the memories of the two years he had 
spent amongst those admirable, though ill- 
favoured gipsies, visiting successively Italy, 
Germany, the Tyrol, and chivalrous Hungary 
rescued and restored at last to his family 
through the devotion of a beautiful Romany 
lass, the last descendant of a time-honoured 
race, etc., etc. Villiers began his education 
at the school of St. Brieuc, but soon after- 
wards continued it at the Lyce"e at Laval. 
There his genius began to trouble his soul. 
The divine visions of poetry hovered round 
him, the breath of artistic enthusiasm fell 
glowing on his brow, and his first verses were 
written. Between whiles he concluded his 


classical studies, which, once finished, his 
family settled with him at Rennes, in a house 
in the Rue de Corbin. At this time Villiers 
de 1'Isle Adam was seventeen years old, and 
it was sufficient to see him for a few moments 
to be convinced of his vocation. Inspiration 
beamed on his full pale forehead, it sparkled 
in his discourse, in which the tumult of ideas 
pressed disorderly one on the other, trembled 
on his full lips already curled with irony, and 
filled his clear blue eyes with a disturbing 
light. His large, fair, dishevelled head, his 
strange gestures, his disorderly style of dress, 
alarmed the correct provincial society, of 
which, by the way, he saw but little. But 
those few privileged mortals who entered the 
magic circle of his intimacy, remained there 
fascinated and dazzled. Villiers already pos- 
sessed that extraordinary magnetic power 
which he preserved all his life, and of which 
every friend of his has felt the influence. The 
depth of thought in one so young was almost 
uncanny. All in fact he needed, at the time 
of his arrival at Rennes, to fit him to pro- 
nounce his vows before the altar of art, was 


that his heart should bleed under the divine 
wound of love, the agonizing consecration of 
every true poet. 

It was amongst the green fields and lanes 
of Brittany that there arose for him, to vanish 
almost immediately in death, that tender vision 
of womanhood which was his fleeting, but his 
only earthly love. She was one of those en- 
trancing creatures, of whom he has so well 
said, " There are certain helpmates who en- 
noble every one of life's joys, certain radiant 
maidens whose love is only positively given 
once. Yes, some few saintly souls, ideal in 
their dawning beauty." I will not profane the 
sacred passion of these two young hearts by 
trying to describe it. I will only say, They 
loved, and she died. On a sudden, suffering 
unfolded and spread the poet's budding wings. 
In an artist's youth, all his feelings, even 
sorrow, turn to song, and so it was with 
Villiers. These lines, written at seventeen 
years of age by the disdainful scoffer our 
generation knew so well, have their natural 
place here, marking, as they do, the close of 
the child's and the birth of the artist's existence. 



O charmants eglantiers ! soleil, rayon, verdure ! 
Frais salut que la terre offre dans un murmure 
De zephirs renaissants, aux coeurs emplis d'espoir, 
Bocage encor tout plein de chastes reveries, 
Six mois se sont passes loin de vos fleurs che'ries : 
J'avais besoin de vous revoir. 

Oh ! vous souvenez-vous, foret delicieuse, 
De la jolie enfant qui passait gracieuse, 
Souriant simpkment au ciel, a. 1'avenir, 
Se perdant avec moi dans ces vertes allees ? 
Eh bien ! parmi les lis de vos sombres vallees, 
Vous ne la verrez plus venir. 

O printemps ! 6 lilas ! 6 profondes ramees ! 
Comme autrefois vos fleurs, qu'elle avait tant aimees, 
Sous vos sentiers deserts exhalent leurs amours ; 
L'aubepine s'enlace au bane de la charmille, 
L'oiseau chante, le ciel est bleu, le soleil brille : 
Rien n'a change dans les beaux jours ! 

Silencieux vallon ! cela n'etait qu'un reve, 
Un songe radieux qui maintenant s'acheve 
Et ne laisse apres lui qu'un amer souvenir . . . 
Ne me demandez pas ce qu'elle est devenue, 
La pauvre jeune fille en ce monde venue 
Pour consoler et pour mourir ! 

Morte ! et je suis encore en proie a 1'existence ! 
C'est done cela la vie ? Et deja mon enfance 
A-t-elle disparu loin de ce coeur brise ? 


Seigneur, vous etes grand, mais vous etes severe ! 
Ainsi me voila seul : c'est fini sur la terre ; 
Cela s'appelle : " le Passe." 


He"las ! je me souviens. Les vents au sein des ombres, 
Du fleuve harmonieux plissaient les vagues sombres ; 
Les chants ailes du soir s'etaient evanouis ; 
Et la lune, en glissant parmi les blancs nuages, 
Souvent illuminait les teintes des feuillages 
Du clair obscur des belles nuits. 

Le rossignol, cache" sous 1'epaisse feuille"e, 
Modulait les soupirs de sa chanson perlee, 
Les fleurs, dans leurs parfums, s'endormaient a leur tour 
Et comme deux rayons reunissent leur flamme, 
Tous deux nous unissions nos ames dans une ame, 
Et nos deux cceurs dans notre amour. 

Comme son joli pied se posait sur la mousse ! 
Comme sa chevelure e"tait soyeuse et douce ! 
Nous allions, enlaces, sous les hauts peupliers ; 
Elle avait dix-sept ans ; j'avais cet age a peine, 
Souvent le rossignol retenait son haleine 
En e"coutant nos pas le"gers. 

Et moi je contemplais mon amante pensive, 
Et nous nous en allions, seuls, aupres de la rive. 
Sa main sur mon epaule et le front sur ma main ; 
Et les fre"missements de la nuit solitaire 
Emportaient dans les cieux, ainsi qu'une priere, 
Tous les doux songes du chemin. 



Puis, le reveil ! la mort ! 1'existence qui change ! 
O temps ! vieillard glace" ! qu'as-tu fait de mon ange ? 
Oil l'as-tu mise, helas ! et froide et pour toujours ? 
Qu'as-tu fait de 1'enfant jeune et pleine de charities, 
Qu'as-tu fait du sourire et qu'as-tu fait des larmes, 
Oh ! qu'as-tu fait de nos amours ? 


Voyez comme les fleurs viennent bien pres des tombes ! 
On dirait un bouquet que les jeunes colombes, 
Retournant au pays, nous laissent pour adieu. 
Qu'avait-elle done fait pour mourir la premiere? 
Est-ce un crime de vivre ? et 1'amour, sur la terre, 
N'est-il pas le pardon de Dieu ? 

Ne me souriez plus, 6 campagne immortelle ! 
Je suis seul maintenant ; si ce n'etait pour elle, 
Je n'avais pas besoin de vos fraiches beautes ; 
N'ai-je pas vu 1'abime ou tombent toutes choses ? 
Les lis meurent dans 1'ombre ou se fanent les roses : 
Les cypres seuls restent planted. 

Elle est sous les cypres, la pale jeune femme ! 
Mon amour triste et fier brule encor dans mon ame, 
Comme une lampe d'or veille sur le cercueil. 
Mais je ne pleure plus : la douleur a ses charmes. 
Et d'ailleurs, 6 mon Dieu, mes yeux n'ont plus de larmes, 
Et mon cceur seul porte le deuil. 



O lovely eglantine ! O sunlit glades ! 

Fresh greeting offered by the murmuring earth 

On circling breezes to all hopeful hearts, 

Since last I saw those fair and much-loved flowers, 

Which yet fill all your memory-haunted groves, 

Six weary months have passed, 

And I have longed to look on you again ! 

Dost thou remember, Forest, lovely yet, 
The pretty graceful child who wandered by, 
Smiling her simple faith in Heaven and Fate, 
And straying with me through your verdant maze? 
Alas ! the lilies hidden in your green depths 
Shall see her pass no more ! 

O spring-time ! Lilacs ! O deep greenwood shades ! 
Your flowers, erstwhile so dear to her sweet soul, 
Still shed their scent o'er your deserted paths, 
The may still twines the bench within the grove, 
Birds sing, the sky is blue, the sun still shines, 

No change has come upon your summer-tide : 

Dumb silent valley ! It was all a dream, 
A radiant dream, too soon, alas ! to pass 
And leaving but a bitter sense of loss 
Where she is now, I pray you, ask me not ! 
That sweet young creature, sent into this world 
To comfort others then herself to die ! 

Dead ! Can it be ? And I must still live on ! 
Is this Life's fate ? And has my youth indeed 
Forsaken for ever this poor broken heart ? 


Lord, Thou art just, but oh ! Thou strikest hard ! 
I am alone ! I've done with earthly dreams ! 

I've learnt the bitter meaning of " The Past ! " 


Alas ! I see it still ! Out of the shadowy night 
The gentle river flowed in darkly rippling waves ; 
Fallen into dreamless sleep, the birds had hushed their 


The moonbeams creeping slow athwart the fleecy clouds 
Touched with their silver light the dusk and massy shades, 
Seen through the twilight of the lovely night. 

The nightingale from out the green and bosky shade 
Sighed forth his passion in his pearly-throated song, 
The flowers had bowed their heads in deep and perfumed 


And we, whose souls were joined as though in one sun ray, 
Could feel our happy hearts beating in one great 

love ! 

How firm her dainty step upon the mossy path ! 
How silken and how soft the masses of her hair ! 
As arm in arm we walked 'neath the tall poplar trees, 
(She was but seventeen, and I was hardly more,) 
Often the nightingale would seem to hold his breath, 
To listen to our lightly falling steps. 

And how I loved to gaze upon her thoughtful face, 
As far along the bank we wandered all alone, 
My shoulder 'neath her hand, while mine caressed her 


And all the rustlings of the lovely night 
Carried to Heaven, as though they were a prayer, 
The sweet and dreamy fancies of the hour ! 


Then, with Death's awful change, the sad awakening 
came ! 

hoary-headed Time ! Where hast thou hid my love? 
For ever cold and still, ah ! whither is she gone? 
That child, so full of life, of young resistless charm, 
Where is her magic smile ? and where her melting tears? 

And where the vanished glory of our loves ? 


Mark now, how lush the flowers grow near a tomb ! 
Just like the nosegays some young turtle doves 
Might leave for farewell offering, ere they fly 
Into their native country ! Why should she die first ? 
Is life a crime? And is not earthly love 
God's own forgiveness ? 

Smile then no more, O immortal country fields ! 

1 stand henceforth alone. And it was but for her 

That your fresh blooming beauty seemed so sweet to me ! 
Have I not plumbed the depths which ingulf all earthly 

The lilies wither, and the roses fade away 

Beneath the shadows which the cypress loves ! 

Beneath the cypress sleeps that woman young and pale, 
My sad and faithful love still burns within my soul, 


Like to the golden lamp which burns before a corpse. 
But I can weep no more, in spite of sorrow's charm, 
And this, O Lord, is why : My eyes have no more 

And my heart hides its lonely misery ! 

Villiers never loved truly, deeply, in- 
genuously, but this once. No other woman 
ever took in his existence the place of the 
gentle, dead Breton girl. His imagination 
may have been swept away by the rustle of 
some passing robe, his senses may have been 
captivated, his artistic feeling interested, by 
the charm of the perturbing mystery which 
surrounds the eternal problem of the softer 
sex, but the poet's heart remained untouched, 
impregnable, proud, wrapped up in its sad 
fidelity to that early memory. 

This first terrible experience of sorrow 
hastened the prodigiously rapid intellectual 
development of the young writer. He sought 
and found refuge in excessive activity, and 
Inspiration, great and radiant consoler, illu- 
mined his mind and beamed upon his heart. 
Vast conceptions, gigantic projects, such as 
are always formed by youthful artists, en- 



veloped his spirit with their luxuriant growth. 
In this one year, he conceives the idea of a 
drama, " Morgane," impressed with a melan- 
choly splendour ; he plans a wonderful trilogy, 
which eventually, under the three titles of 
" Axel," " L' Adoration des Mages," and " Le 
Vieux de la Montagne," will become the chief 
work, the crowning point of his existence as 
a thinker ; he imagines his mysterious novel, 
" I sis," and, above all, he pours forth in lines 
pulsating with life and glow, all the tumultuous 
grief of his tortured and sorrow-laden soul ! 
During this period, while his genius was agi- 
tatedly beating her wings like a captive eagle, 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam found at the home- 
fireside constant encouragement, unceasing 
sympathy, and immeasurable tenderness ! 
There is something admirably touching and 
rare in this worship of him by his own people 
in his early days. Generally the youth of 
an artist is darkened by the ill-will, the in- 
stinctive mistrust of art, the narrow-minded- 
ness, the love of lucre, of his family. In the 
case of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, the contrary 
was the fact. The mother, the old aunt, the 


treasure-seeking marquis, disagreeing in all 
else, formed a perfect union when it was a 
question of singing the praises of " their 
Matthias." They lauded him, they exalted 
him on to a pedestal. His vocation, his 
genius, the certainty of his success, of his 
future glory, were so many articles of faith to 
them. And they proved it. 

Persuaded that Paris was the only stage 
worthy of the great part which their Matthias 
was called to enact, convinced that it was 
their own absolute duty to sacrifice every- 
thing in order that the genius of the family 
might expand in full freedom, these admirable 
souls, at the very sight of whom the self- 
important bourgeois smiled and shrugged 
their shoulders, resolved to sell everything, 
to realize their little fortune, and, their small 
purse in hand, to go and await in some out-of- 
the-way corner in the formidable town the 
final victory of the last of the Villiers de 
1'Isle Adam, who, according to their childlike 
faith, was with brain and pen to reconquer 
for them the fortune and the celebrity which 
their ancestors had won by blood and sword ! 


All hastened to the rescue. The nun of 
the Sacred Heart, the abbe, the old aunt 
the marquis was indefatigable in calling in 
his funds; he sold at an enormous loss, but 
without a shadow of regret, his little manor- 
house at Le"gue and the old residence at St. 
Brieuc. He abandoned the excavations for 
ten treasures, and the search for half a hundred 
inheritances, and following his son, accom- 
panied by his wife, and having in tow the old 
aunt, who would not be left behind, he started 
for Paris, to the cry of " Dieu le volt ! " (It 
is God's will !) with the same confidence in 
which his crusader ancestors had departed to 


Paris The reign of the common-place in literature 
The poets The defenders of the Beautiful " Le Par- 
nasse Contemporain " " LesParnassiens" Catulle 
blendes and the " Revue Fantaisiste " Triumphal 
entry of Villiers de ITsle Adam First Poems 
Friendships Stephane Mallarmeand Leon Dierx 
"Claire Lenoir" Appearance of Dr. Triboulat Bon- 
homet A few words touching this personage " Le 
Roman d'une Nuit," by Catulle Mendes Death of 
the "Revue Fantaisiste "The Blue Dragon Hotel 
The Rue de Douai- Villiers de ITsle Adam, accord- 
ing to Francois Coppee. 

T the time of the exodus of Villiers 
and his family, Paris had become, 
from the artistic and literary point 
of view, the paradise of the com- 
mon-place. The gods of this Olympus were 
composers of operettas, manufacturers of 
serial novels, historiographers of the latest 
scandals, poets of the drawing-room, of the 


boudoir, nay, of the cafe concerts. All these 
lived and fattened on their trade, honoured, 
and almost celebrated, clinging to the title of 
artist, yet ignorant of, or despising, the pri- 
mordial rules of art. The censure, which 
smiled sanctimoniously on the short skirts 
and sprightly whims of the Offenbach School, 
could never be severe enough on truly artistic 
and conscientious work. It was the epoch of 
the ridiculous prosecution of the author of 
" Madame Bovary," and of the sentence 
against Baudelaire. 

As for those poets who pursued their 
divine chimera with fervour and disinterested- 
ness, no jest was reckoned too coarse, no insult 
in too bad taste, to be thrown in their faces. 
The press was perpetually sharpening the 
arrows of its keenest satire, wherewith to 
pierce whomsoever aspired to any great ideal. 
Victor Hugo, exiled as he was, alone suc- 
ceeded in stirring the masses to their depths. 
In the face of all this opprobrium, the last 
survivors of the admirable phalanx of romantic 
poets had wrapped themselves in scornful 
silence. Emile Deschamps lay dying ob- 


scurely in the dreary town of Versailles, he, 
the author of the " Romanceros," rhyming 
sickly madrigals to Chloris ; while the divine 
Theophile Gautier, the illustrious hero of the 
first performance of " Hernani," cast the last 
blossoms of his astonishing intellect on the 
common track of the newspaper feuilleton. 
Poetry and art seemed in truth to be dead, 
stifled by the triumph of materialistic stupidity. 
But poetry and art are as immortal as the 
starry heavens, and at the very moment in 
which they seemed to lie in their last agony, 
they were silently making ready to spread 
their vigorous limbs and soar with lofty 
flight into the blue realms of the ideal ! 

Certain youths, very young and poor, 
banded together in the same faith, the same 
deep and passionate love of the beautiful, the 
same lively hatred of the common-place and 
the vulgar, formed the bold project of revolt- 
ing, w r eak and almost defenceless as they 
were, against this formidable tyranny of folly 
and mediocrity. They resolved to defend 
the sacred domain of literature with all their 
young strength against the invasion which 


threatened it ; to proclaim the power of 
rhythm, the respect that is due to syntax, to 
affirm, in short, that no work can be really 
artistic without a constant jealousy for form. 
The critics of the chief newspapers, the 
chroniclers of the small ones, drew upon their 
usual arsenal of gibes and jeers, and old jokes 
turned out as new, to scoff down these rash 
youths. They were given strange nicknames, 
" Formists," "Stylists," " Fantaisistes," " Im- 
passibles." Songs were made about them, 
they were caricatured, made to play the parts 
of idiots in the " Revues " at the end of each 
year, and to conclude, when a young pub- 
lisher, who (thanks to his lucky daring) had 
become a millionaire, ventured to publish the 
first number of their collected poems, " Le 
Parnasse Contemporain," they were held up 
to public laughter and indignation as " Les 
Parnassiens " (the Parnassians). 

All this rage, however, far from crushing 
these chivalrous young votaries of the ideal, 
filled their hearts with fresh courage. In spite 
of jests and insults, they pursued their course, 
and what is still more admirable and touching, 


pursued it in spite of the direst poverty. Of 
them, as of every artist, posterity has been 
the true judge ; and it has sent back to their 
native obscurity those who, from the heights 
of their brilliant existence, made game of the 
poor little feverish -eyed, shabby-coated poets. 
Where are now the names of those sparkling 
and witty quill-drivers, who poured forth their 
sarcasms on the obscure Parnassians ? And, 
on the other hand, the names of these same 
Parnassians, are they not now familiar to us 
all ? To cite only the chief among them, have 
we not Francois Coppee, Sully Prudhomme, 
Alphonse Daudet, Leon Cladel, Glatigny, 
Catulle Mendes, and Villiers de 1'Isle Adam ? 
Res miranda! The first publication of these 
new representatives of "la jeune France" 
was not a collection of verses, it was just 
simply a review in which prose and poetry 
joyously alternated. Gaily covered, cheerful 
in tone, with an attractive and well-sounding 
title, its editor was nineteen years old, and it 
had not a contributor who counted more than 
five-and- twenty summers. In short, it was 
the " Revue Fantaisiste," whose director was 


a native of Bordeaux, newly arrived in Paris, 
poor as Job and handsome as Apollo, by 
name Catulle Mendes. The offices of this 
review were in the Passage Mires, now 
Passage des Princes. Here Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam broke his first lance, and my readers 
will doubtless appreciate this quotation from 
a little known but amusing work, in which 
the former director of the " Revue Fantaisiste " 
has presented, in a style at once witty and 
feeling, the picture of the home of the " Par- 
nasse Contemporain " : 

" The office was a somewhat strange-look- 


ing place ; hangings of green and rose- 
coloured chintz, like a smiling meadow, seemed 
to gaze in wonder at the mahogany cupboards 
and tables. A lounge (seldom unoccupied) 
at the back of the room appeared to sulk at 
the leathern arm-chair and the cardboard 
manuscript cases. It was half drawing-room, 
and would fain have been all boudoir ! 

" Hither, every afternoon, towards three 
o'clock, came Theodore de Banville, giving 
us freely, with the good-nature of a youthful 
maestro, his intoxicating mixture of Orpheus 


and Balzac, at one and the same time so lyric 
and so truly Parisian ; Charles Asselineau, 
with his long soft hair already grey, and on 
his lips that smile, tender though ironic, which 
none but Nodier ever had before him ; Leon 
Golzan, who graciously vouchsafed us the 
support of his name ; Charles Monselet, 
Jules Noriac, Philoxene Boyer, dreaming of 
Shakespeare, and Charles Baudelaire, slight, 
elegant, a little stealthy, almost alarming with 
his half-frightened air, gracefully haughty, 
with the attraction and charm of beauty in 
distress, rather like a very delicate bishop, 
somewhat fallen away from grace perhaps, 
who had donned an elaborate lay costume for 
travelling purposes : ' His Eminence Mon- 
seignor Beau Brummel ! ' He used to bring 
us those wonderful prose poems, which are 
numbered now amongst the most perfect 
pages in French literature. There, too, Albert 
Glatigny, with his vagrant flow of speech, 
hand on hip, his necktie undone, his waistcoat 
too short, and obstinately ignorant of braces, 
smiling like some young faun, wearied out by 
the tendernesses of the nymphs, would recite 


to us those amorous strophes of his, whose 
rhymes seem to re-echo the sound of kisses." 
It was in this abode, with its strange charm, 
where the three twin sisters, Youth, Poetry, 
and Poverty, seemed to have met together, 
that Villiers de 1'Isle Adam made his entry 
into the world of letters. He presented him- 
self, almost immediately on his arrival in 
Paris, his pockets stuffed with his family 
parchments and his own manuscript com- 
positions. At the very outset he took the 
office by storm, and he soon became one of 
the chief editors of the " Revue Fantaisiste." 
The brilliant apparition of the last descendant 
of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta 
has often been described in enthusiastic terms 
by those who were eye-witnesses of it. " He 
impressed us," says M. Henri Laujol, "as 
being the most magnificently gifted young 
man of his generation." Villiers brought with 
him some manuscript poems, which were pub- 
lished that very year by Scheuring of Lyons, 
with much luxury of paper and printing, under 
the title of" Premieres Poesies " (First Poems). 
The book was dedicated to the Comte Alfred 


de Vigny. In this collection of verse, now 
hardly to be found, there is already a glimpse 
of the profound original thinker, scornful of 
all conventionalism. It is not, to be sure, by 
any means a piece of perfection, but through 
its uncertainties, its weaknesses, its gropings 
in the dark, here and there, as in " Hermosa " 
and " Le Chant du Calvaire," there beams 
the flash of genius. 

These first years of Villiers in Paris con- 
tain the few truly happy moments of a life 
full of bitterness. He was free, then, from 
the anxiety of earning his daily bread, and 
when he left the family circle, where he was 
adored like a deity, he met everywhere, on 
his first appearance, with an enthusiastic wel- 
come. The originality of his gestures and 
demeanour, and his profound, passionate, and 
picturesque speech, full as it was of glowing 
imagery, aroused amongst young people an 
admiration which amounted to fanaticism. 
He was the spoiled child of the Parnassians, 
and he found in their coterie the two friends 
who, through all the trials and hardships, and 
all the mortifications of his life, remained 


faithful to him till death, and after it ; I 
speak of M. Stephane Mallarme and M. 
Lon Dierx. Every friend of Villiers must, 
like myself, vow an infinite gratitude to 
the two excellent-hearted poets who, having 
supported the author of the " Nouveau 
Monde " in the hours of his despondency and 
darkest poverty, showed him, in his last ill- 
ness, a care, a delicate tenderness, a devotion, 
and a disinterestedness, which the tenderest 
woman might have envied them. No artist's 
existence, even in the direst tribulation, could 
be completely wretched, while brightened and 
warmed by the flame of such sturdy friendship. 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam made his d^but, 
then, in the " Revue Fantaisiste," with a tale 
called " Claire Lenoir," a strange, mysterious, 
terrifying story. What makes this work 
peculiarly interesting to us is that in it there 
appears, for the first time, a character which 
has become almost legendary, and on the 
creation of which the writer worked up till 
the end of his life. It will be understood 
that I refer to the striking figure of Dr. 
Triboulat Bonhomet, the personification of 


the scientific and atheistic bourgeois a 
monstrous Prud'homme, transcendently fool- 
ish and ferociously egotistic. In drawing his 
own portrait, Bonhomet writes this sentence, 
which seems to me to sum up the original 
idea of his author : " My physiognomy is that 
of my century, of which I have reason to 
believe myself the archetype ; briefly, I am a 
doctor, a philanthropist, and a man of the 
world." Again, speaking of his own convic- 
tions, he says : " My religious ideas are 
limited to the absurd conviction that God has 
created man in His own image, and vice versa" 
This Dr. Triboulat Bonhomet was to Villiers 
what "le garden" was to Flaubert : a sort of 
imaginary personage, whom he endued with a 
complete personality, with all the passions of 
a real and complicated character, in whose 
mouth he placed the jokes and the aphorisms 
which he collected in conversation and in life, 
or which his profound and ironic wit invented 
for him. This doctor makes one shudder rather 
than laugh, and the circumstantial pedantry 
with which he relates the alarming adventures 
of " that discreet and scientific personage, 


Dame Claire Lenoir, widow," adds to the 
terror of her story. 

But I shall frequently have occasion, in the 
course of these notes, to quote the sayings of 
this "honorary member of many academies 
and professor of physiology," whose greatest 
enjoyment, according to his biographer, was 
to kill swans, in order to hear their dying 
song. For the moment, I must register the 
decease of the poetical little review, in 
which so many talents tried their budding 
wings. It passed away in the second year of 
its existence, beaten to death by the censure, 
in the name of public morality. The so-called 
outrage had been committed by its director, 
Catulle Mendes, and took the form of a one- 
act comedy in verse, entitled, " A Night's 
Romance" ("Le Roman d'une Nuit"). The 
piece was far from being a good one, but, 
though frivolous and mediocre, it was not 
criminal, and one wonders on reading it how 


judges were found to condemn the author of 
such a tiny spark to a month's imprisonment, 
and the review which published it to 500 
francs fine. The poet had to go to Ste. 


Pelagie and the review had to pay the fine. 
Money was scarce, and by the time the 
demands of justice were satisfied, the cashbox 
was empty. The contributors cheerfully cele- 
brated the obsequies of their literary offspring, 
and most of them went to live in a furnished 
inn in the Rue Dauphine, famous in the annals 
of contemporary literature as the Blue Dragon 
Hotel. Four years later, we find them 
gathered once more round their former chief. 
Fortune had smiled on Catulle Mendes ; he had 
money in his pockets, and owned, in the Rue 
de Douai, an apartment containing real furni- 
ture and a piano ; likewise a groom, surnamed 
Covielle, who opened the door to such visitors 
as were in possession of the necessary pass- 
word. In one of his articles in the " Patrie," 
these meetings of the future Parnassians have 
been admirably reproduced by Frangois Cop- 
pee. Want of space forbids me to cite the 
whole, but I quote this portrait of Villiers de 
1'Isle Adam, which represents him with perfect 
and striking truthfulness. 

"Suddenly, round the assembled poets, runs 
the universal cry of joy, ' Villiers ! Here's 



Villiers ! ' And all at once a young man, 
with light blue eyes, a little wavering in his 
walk, chewing a cigarette, tossing back his 
disordered locks, and twisting his small, fair 
moustache, enters, wearing a haggard look, 
shakes hands absently, sees the open piano, 
sits down to it, and nervously touching the 
keys, sings in a voice which trembles, but the 
deep and magic accents of which none of us 
can ever forget, a melody he has improvised 
in the street, a vague, mysterious melopceia, 
which accompanies (thereby doubling the 
depth and agitation of the impression it 
makes) Charles Baudelaire's beautiful sonnet: 

' Nous aurons des lits plains d'odeurs le*geres 
Des divans profonds comme des tombeaux,' etc. 

' Our beds shall be scented with sweetest perfume, 
Our divans be as cool and as dark as the tomb ! ' 

" Then, while all are still under the spell, 
humming the last notes of his air, or else 
abruptly breaking it off, he rises, leaves the 
piano, goes as though to hide himself in the 
corner of the room, and rolling another 
cigarette, casts over his stupified audience 


a comprehensive glance, the glance of Hamlet 
as he lies at Ophelia's feet, during the repre- 
sentation of the death of Gonzago. 

" Thus appeared to us, eighteen years ago, 
in those pleasant gatherings at the house of 
Catulle Mendes, in the Rue de Douai, the 
Comte Auguste Philippe Villiers de 1'Isle 
Feb. 26, 1883. 


Early influences Charles Baudelaire My father 
His relations with Villiers Their intimacy The 
Hotel d'Orle'ans Literary and philosophical gather- 
ings Leon Cladel Villiers and the Hegelian philo- 
sophy " Isis " "The Princess Tullia Fabriana" 
Preface Eccentricities of style The original of 
Doftor Bonhomet Doftor C. "Ellen" and 
"Morgane" Sensations of loneliness The Mar- 
quis de 1'Isle Adam continues at Paris the course of 
his profitable financial operations The poisoner, 
Comte Courty de la Pommerais The apartment in 
the Rue St. Honore The marquis Aunt Kerinou 
Matthew's decorations. 

T sometimes happens that strong 
influences felt by an artist in his 
early intellectual life leave an in- 
effaceable mark on his existence. 
At the time of his initiation into literature, 
Villiers fell under two such influences, that 
of Charles Baudelaire, and that of my father. 


The ascendancy exercised over him by the 
" Satanic " poet seems to me to have been 
somewhat inauspicious. It developed his 
taste for extremes and for mystification, it led 
him astray from the exercise of his talent, 
naturally clear and simple in its expression, 
instigating him to bury it in clouds of whim- 
sical metaphor, or to allow himself to be 
drawn into the obscurities, the affectations, 
the over-refinements, which sometimes dis- 
figure his work, and make it so difficult to 
read. Let it be understood that I do not 
speak here of irony, which was one of 
Villiers' most powerful weapons, and which 
was originally, in his case, thoroughly good- 
natured, though the hardships of life, and the 
wicked stupidity of those who considered 
themselves " the pink of gentility," sharpened 
it, and rendered it pitiless and terrible. 

But his connection with Baudelaire, the in- 
fluence which the author of the " Fleurs du 
Mai " gained over his heart and intellect at 
the threshold of his literary career, inspired 
him with that mania for making the middle 
class stare, " epater le bourgeois," and for 


mystifying his readers, from which he was 
never able to free himself even in his most 
deeply thought-out work, " L'Eve Future." 

My father's influence, on the contrary, was, 
by Villiers' own acknowledgment, very useful 
and precious to him. He often told me that 
he would have risen much higher if he had 
listened to him more. But there was nothing 
strange in the fa<5t that his nervous nature, 
his mind full of every sort of curiosity, his 
youth, indeed, should have been much more 
captivated by the wilful eccentricities, the 
exotic life, the dandyism, and the cool per- 
versity of Charles Baudelaire, than by the 
counsels of his Breton relative, who was for 
ever preaching to him sobriety, labour, soli- 
tude, and silence. 

Up to the time of the arrival of the family 
of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam in Paris, my father's 
relations with Villiers had merely been those 
which usually exist between a youth and a 
man considerably his senior; but, after the 
young poet's triumphant entry into the capital, 
attracted more than any other person by the 
brilliant dawn of the budding genius, and 


dreading for him the formidable reefs on 
which so many great men make shipwreck 
during their apprentice days, he drew Villiers 
towards him, and took him, so to say, under 
his wholesome tutorship. From that day, 
Matthias became part of the family, and it 
was soon after that he paid that first visit to 
Fougeres my recollection of which I have 
described at the commencement of this work. 
Here, perhaps, is the fittest place to 
insert an amusing letter, the facsimile of 
which is offered to the inquiring reader. 
It is addressed to my father, and dated from 
Montfort, a small town in the department of 
Ille-et-Vilaine. In it Villiers alludes to 
the printing of his first volume of poems. 
M. Lemenant, the lawyer-friend in whose 
house the letter was written, was a worthy 
and eccentric man, an old schoolfellow of the 
poet's at Laval, who, having profited but 
little by his earlier education at school, and 
by his subsequent study of transcendental 
philosophy in Paris, wisely devoted himself 
to the care of the parental acres and briefs, 
in his native province. He died young and 


rich. Villiers dedicated some verses to him 
in the " Premieres Poesies." 

" My dear good poet, 

" And how are you ? Better I hope. 
If I were in your place, I should be in the 
rudest health. But let that be as it may, I 
am certain that the one thing that you pine 
for at this moment, is your seventy-second 
game of chess. 

" If, however, you should be thinking of 
starting for the land of shadows, be good 
enough to give me warning, so that I may 
compose in your glory, and for the wonder- 
ment of the world in general, a funeral march 
in E flat. It is the fashionable key, and on 
fashion I take my stand ! 

" I have no letters from my interesting 
family. Lemenant and I are in the depths of 
poverty, which facl; forces me to ask your 
permission to put off the repayment of your 
kindly help. Don't swear at me ! I publish 
the praise of your amiability far and wide. 
And, besides, the fault is yours, and it will 
teach you to be too good-natured ! Now, I ask 


you, whether in this nineteenth century, any 
sane man should lend money to his friend ? 
Do you desire to see the finger of scorn 
pointed at you in every drawing-room you 
enter ? I will denounce you to the whole 
of society as a traitor to the principle of 
modern selfishness ! 

" This may bore you but you richly de- 
serve it ! 

" The proofs of ' Master Perrin ' are comical 
to the last degree. 

" Lemenant and I have had several hearty 
laughs at his expense. I am going to write 
him a little jeering letter which will puzzle 
his poor brains. 

" Here is a specimen of his manner. It is 
all the same from beginning to end. 

"' Unfaige de Don Ivan & def pechevrf dv 

" ' L'usage de Don Juan et des pecheurs du 

" Here you have an impossible rhyme, 
printed in this man's extraordinary style. 
Too much of a joke, isn't it ? Between our- 
selves, a man who has such a notion must be 


mad ; just fancy a book printed on yellow 
paper in this style ! Lemenant vows it 
would be quite phosphorescent. It really is 
comical, and in my collected works (if they 
are ever published) I might afford myself 
such a luxury, but at present ! Zut ! This is 
my definition. He is the ne plus iiltra of a 
grinning, superannuated typographer, or, if 
you prefer it, the weird ink-scratcher of the 
Gutenbergian Press ! and, in other words, 
the grave of human thought ! 

" Now, let us go on to less casual matters. 

" Montfort is a town, or rather stay ! I 
am right in calling it a town full of mud, and 
of calm. We live in it, under the wing of 
that good old seraph whose name is ' cheerful- 

" The country swarms with worthy people, 
and one hardly knows oneself, coming from 
Paris ! 

" There is a mill here, a real mill, exactly 
like Rosa Bonheur's pictures (still life). 

" Lemenant pours daily from our open 
window his sanctimonious speeches, and his 
metaphysico-transcendental spleen. 


" The few terrified passers-by listen, listen, 
and accompany his discourse to the air, 
' II a des bott, bott, bott.' The which pro- 
duces an effect whereon I heartily congratulate 

" We live in the square, which triples the 
interest of the view, and I peacefully go on 
making rhymes in the midst of the tumult. 
A bientot, dear kind poet ! 

" Believe in my true faithful friendship ! I 
clasp your hand and heartily embrace you. 
If you have time, send me a reassuring word 
about your health. 


At the very end of the Rue Richelieu, 
almost opposite the Theatre Francais, stands 
an hotel the Hotel d' Orleans where I 
often and gladly stay. I cannot pass under 
its vaulted entrance without being deeply 
moved. As I gaze on the inner court with 
its steep flight of steps, and glance at the 
second-floor windows, all the ghosts of my 
youthful school-days rise up around me, every 
corner of the dwelling is familiar, and at each 


turn I seem to see the proud outline of my 
father's face. Here he lived for twelve years, 
and here my brothers and I, students at the 
College Rollin, spent our Sunday holidays. 
We used to be present in clouds of tobacco 
smoke, at endless discussions between Villiers 
de 1'Isle Adam and the master of the little 
apartment. We did not understand much, 
it must be admitted, but we used to gaze 
open-mouthed at the wild gestures, the 
chamois-like bounds, the contortions of every 
feature, with which our cousin Matthias used 
to embellish his arguments. 

This hotel in the Rue Richelieu had not 
then, it has not now, the commonplace aspecl; 
of our modern caravanserais. In spite of 
all the alterations made by its new owners, 
the walls of the building still bear the marks 
of its illustrious origin. 


For this was the old town-house of the 
Cardinal Armand de Richelieu, and the prin- 
cipal building, reached by a flight of stone 
steps of great dignity of form, has preserved 
all the majestic simplicity of the architectural 
style of the time of Louis XIII. 


In the days of my father and of Villiers, 
the hotel was kept by a worthy couple whose 
son was an artist, and hence, scattered through 
the rooms, were tapestries, frescoes, pictures, 
and trophies of arms, which heightened the 
quaint air of the dwelling. 

Hither, in the evenings, to a modest 
apartment on the second floor, came some 
dreamers, some thinkers, some philosophers. 
Besides the face of Villiers, a second coun- 
tenance, seen by chance at one of these 
reunions, remains graven on my memory, 
that of Leon Cladel. His mighty stature, 
his long hair, his pallid complexion, his 
gloomy countenance, his wild eyes, his 
reddish-brown beard, really gave him that air 
attributed to him by Catulle Mendes, of a 
fallen angel. 

He used to come with his friend Baude- 
laire, whom, I am ashamed to say, I do not 

As my father was much occupied with 
philosophy at this period of his life, the philo- 
sophers were the most numerous and eager 
guests at these gatherings, where much coffee 


was drunk, and an incalculable number of 
pipes and cigarettes consumed. The host 
was at that time passionately interested in 
the German school of philosophy, which 
soon laid hold of the profound mind of Vil- 
liers de 1'Isle Adam. His friend initiated 
him into the brilliant spiritualist theories of 
Hegel, whose fervent disciple he was ; but 
the humanitarian and socialistic projects of 
the author of the " Poemes virils " found a 
somewhat unfriendly auditor in Villiers. His 
mind and soul soared too far above realities 
to preoccupy themselves about the sufferings 
of humanity or the miseries of real life. On 
the other hand, the Titanic poetry, the breadth 
and splendour of the views of the German 
thinker, filled him with the greatest enthu- 
siasm. He began to put forward the theories 
of the speculative philosophy in the curious 
tale of " Claire Lenoir," which I have already 
spoken of. Some years later, in 1862, he 
published the first volume of a mysterious 
novel, " Isis," the continuation of which never 
appeared, in which the Hegelian principles 
and system are developed and carried out to 


their extremest limit. This first volume, 
entitled " Tullia Fabriana," was dedicated to 
my father. It gained for its author some 
expressions of admiration from Baudelaire, 
which at this date may seem excessive. 

In truth, this novel contains more faults 
than good qualities. The passion for roman- 
ticism of which Villiers never could rid him- 
self, here breaks out in gloomy, improbable, 
melodramatic adventures, worked out with 
all the inexperience of a young hand. An 
overflowing wealth of imagination does not 
suffice to conceal the inherent vices of the 
work. When the writer's talent had ripened, 
and when time had calmed down the exube- 
rance of his fancy, he himself recognized all 
the imperfections of his early efforts, and 
" I sis," which was originally to consist of six 
volumes, was not continued. In the preface 
to " Tullia Fabriana " the author thus ex- 
presses himself: "'Isis' is the title of a 
collection of works, which will appear, I hope, 
at short intervals ; it is the collective formula 
for a series of philosophical novels, the x 
of a problem of the Ideal ; it is the great 


unknown : once finished, the work will be its 
own definition." 

The absolute need for oddity which seems 
to be inherent in Villiers, is betrayed in 
" Isis " in a very evident manner. The 
eccentricities of its style attracted many jests 
in the smaller papers. Already, at the appear- 
ance of "Claire Lenoir" in the "Revue 
Fantaisiste," the " Tintamarre " and other 
satirical sheets had made copious game of 
the strange expressions employed by the 
young writer. One sentence especially had 
become celebrated. It had been placed by 
the author in the lips of Dr. Bonhomet him- 
self, " Je lui fus grat de cette injure." Villiers 
claimed that, as ingrat is the qualifying ad- 
jective derived from the noun ingratitude, so 
the adjective derived from gratitude must be 
grat. Logically, reason was on his side, but 
he doubtless forgot that the French language 
laughs at logic. 

This name of Bonhomet, coming back to 
my pen, reminds me that this bold concep- 
tion, which haunted Villiers' brain until his 
death, is not purely imaginary. The Hotel 


d' Orleans possessed at that time, as physician 

in ordinary, a certain Dr. C , who had 

the most ill-favoured countenance it is possible 
to imagine. For the rest, he was an excellent 
man, of a most charitable nature, and a very 
distinguished savant. But his gloomy face, 
a certain mode of expressing himself at once 
whimsical and pompous, his positivism, his 
disdainful scorn for any manifestation of art, 
the extraordinary shape of his hats and cut of 
his clothes, heated the poet's imagination. 
Thenceforward, all unconscious, the worthy 

Dr. C became a sort of dummy, on whose 

frame Villiers hung, from day to day, all the 
wily sophisms, all the strange fancies, all the 
terrible or grotesque fads, which make the 
savant Triboulat Bonhomet a unique type in 
modern literature. 

The first years in Paris (1859-1863) were 
a most prolific period. Besides " Claire Le- 
noir" and " Isis," the writer gave the public 
two dramas full of gloomy splendour, which 
were never acted " Ellen" and "Morgane." 
There is a fine sentence in " Morgane," which 
I desire to quote here, because it seems to me 



admirably characteristic not only of the style, 
but of the turn of mind of Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam at this epoch : 

" I drink to thee, O forest, thou giver of 
oblivion ! To you, dew-laden grasses ! To 
you, too, O wild roses ! growing beneath the 
oaks, intoxicated by the moisture dripping 
from their heavy foliage ! And to you, ye 
wild sea-shores, where hover at eventide the 
salt odours of the star-reflecting waves, and 
who stretch away, like I myself, in pride and 
solitude ! " 

The author of " L'Eve Future " always 
had this sense of being alone in the midst of 
the world. " I have always," he wrote to me 
a few years before his death, " felt alone, even 
when beside a woman I loved, or with a 
friend nay, even in the enthusiastically 
affectionate circle of my own immediate 

While the son thus took his place in the 
sunshine of literature, what became of the 
proud marquis, the gentle saintly marquise, 
the good aunt Kerinou, amidst all the noisy 
whirl of Parisian life ? The marquis, still 


possessed by his visions of wealth, had once 
more taken up his lucrative speculations. He 
was surrounded by a flight of birds of prey, 
business agents, and such like, of strange and 
lean appearance, who were engaged in sharing 
amongst themselves the last remnants of his 



He had established on his own account a 
sort of branch of the Record Office, where, 
with a fine, self-sufficient air, he gave out 
brevets of nobility. Unfortunately his choice 
of the persons he ennobled was not always 
judicious ; and thus it came about that in the 
course of the trial of the poisoner, Courty de 
la Pommerais, the counsel for that doctor, 
criminal enough, although a homoeopath, laid 
before the tribunal a pompous certificate 
signed by the Marquis Joseph de Villiers de 
1'Isle Adam, Dean of the Order of the Knights 
of Malta, and attesting the fact that the 

7 o 

accused, being of noble birth, had an incon- 
testable right to bear the title of " comte " 
(which title he had assumed in order to im- 
pose upon his clients !). 

Towards the end of 1863, somewhere about 


New Year's Day, my father took me, for the 
first time, to visit the old Marquis and Mar- 
quise de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. They had 
taken apartments in the Rue St. Honore, 
close to the Place Vendome, in the house 
now occupied, I believe, by the photographer, 
M. Lejeune. I remember the drawing-room 
was very large, very high up, with very 
little furniture, and on that dark December 
day it made one rather shivery. The mar- 
quise appeared to me like a shadow ; she was 
dressed in black, pale, sad, and distinguished- 
looking. When my father spoke of Matthias, 
her face beamed. She told us with a faint 
smile that the marquis was at his business. 
She added that her aunt Kerinou was ill in 
bed, but that she would like to see us. In a 
great old-fashioned bed, I perceived a little 
old lady, whose doll-like face, framed in an 
immense frilled cap, was all that could be 
seen of her. She had a long, mobile nose, 
and small bright eyes, and talked a great 
deal. Certain phrases which fell perpetually 
from her lips struck me, because they made 
my father laugh in spite of himself. Her 


intonation rests within my memory, and at 
this moment I can hear the little clear tremu- 
lous voice repeating, " You know, Hyacinthe, 
Matthias is a famous man ! Matthias is going 
to have a decoration. The emperor is going 
to decorate Matthias. Matthias will be de- 

I need hardly add that it was all a dream 
of the old lady's. Nobody thought then, no 
one has thought since, of giving the " Croix " 
to the author of "Axel." Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam was one of those men whom no govern- 
ment decorates. 


The legend of the hoaxer hoaxed The succession 
to the throne of Greece Villiers de 1'Isle Adam a 
candidate for the throne" Le Lion de Numidie" 
"The Moor of Venice" Nemesis An imperial 
audience The Marquis and Baron Rothschild 
The Due de Bassano and Villiers de ITsle Adam 
The last a<5l of the comedy A poet's conclusion 
Death of Aunt Kerinou Separation. 

HERE is concerning this epoch in 
the life of Villiers a wonderful 
legend which has remained cele- 
brated in the literary world ; but 
in passing from mouth to mouth it has gone 
through so many transformations, and fallen so 
far from the truth, that it is necessary to re-esta- 
blish it in its pristine simplicity. My readers 
will perceive that the vis comica of the terrible 
joke of which the young writer was a viclim 
had no need of graces and embellishments. 


Here some words of preamble are needed, 
and my frivolous pen must needs make an 
excursion into the grave and wearisome realm 
of contemporary political history. Be re- 
assured, my reader ! it shall be but a short one. 

In the year of grace, 1863, then, a time 
at which the imperial government shone 
with its brightest radiance, the Hellenic nation 
happened to be in want of a king. The 
great powers who protected the heroic little 
nation to which Byron had sacrificed his life, 
France, Russia, and England, looked about 
for a young constitutional tyrant whom they 
might confer on their prottgte. Napoleon III. 
had at that epoch the casting vote in the 
council, and men were asking themselves 
anxiously whether he would put forward a 
candidate, and whether that candidate would 
be a Frenchman. Briefly, the newspapers 
were full of stories about, and comments on 
this absorbing subject : the Greek question 
was the question of the hour. The news- 
mongers could fearlessly give free rein to 
their imagination, for whilst the other nations 
seemed to have fixed their definite choice on 


the son of the King of Denmark, the emperor 
so justly named "the taciturn prince " by the 
friend of his dark days, Charles Dickens 
the emperor, I say, held his peace, and let 
his decision be waited for. 

Thus matters stood, when one morning 
early in March the tall marquis burst like a 
whirlwind into the dreary drawing-room in the 
Rue St. Honore brandishing a newspaper, and 
in an indescribable state of excitement, soon 
to be shared by all his family. This was the 
strange news registered that day in the 
columns of several Parisian newspapers : 
" We learn on good authority that a new 
candidature has just been announced for the 
throne of Greece. The candidate this time 
is a French grand seigneur well known all 
over Paris the Comte Philippe Auguste 
de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, last descendant of 
the august line which has produced the heroic 
defender of Rhodes and the first Grand Master 
of the Knights of Malta. At the emperor's 
last private reception, one of his intimates 
having inquired concerning the probability of 
this candidate's success, his majesty smiled 


enigmatically. The new aspirant to kingly 
honours has our best wishes." 

Those who have followed me so far will 
easily imagine the effe<5t produced on imagi- 
nations like those of the Villiers family by 
such a perusal. Already they beheld their 
Matthias entering Athens, dressed in black 
velvet, proudly seated on a white charger, 
surrounded by his splendid Palikares ! 

As for Matthias himself, he took it all very 
seriously, though he doubted of ultimate 

" Sire ! " said the old marquis gravely, as 
he majestically buttoned his coat, worn white 
with wear, " money is the one thing you want ! 
Your majesty's father will see you get it ! 
Farewell ! I am going to see Rothschild ! " 

He went, and was seen no more for a week. 

But let me quickly explain the origin of 
this extraordinary adventure. It might truly 
be called the hoaxer hoaxed, with the quali- 
fication, however, that the hoaxee would 
never believe in a hoax at all. 

In the days when Villiers was the chief 
figure of the little circle at the Rue de Douai 


and of some literary caboulets (as were then 
called certain cafes where writers congregated), 
he had a rival, a splendid fellow with pale 
skin, eagle eyes, and a thick black head of 
hair, whom the Parnassians nicknamed " Le 
Lion de Numidie," although he only hailed 
from Montpellier. I will call him by no other 
name, for since those days the lion has clipped 
his mane, cut his claws, and done public 
penance to society ! Gifted with a wonderful 
constitution, with delightful spirits and good 
temper, with a much-dreaded shrewdness and 
surprising powers of observation, this jolly 
Colossus would have been invulnerable, had 
he not been afflicted with a vanity as strange 
as it was unwarrantable. 

The Numidian lion had pretensions to 
being an admirable aclor, and never lost an 
opportunity of showing off his talent for 
mimicry and his powers of declamation. 
Villiers, who had already practised that ter- 
rible, cold, and serious irony, which makes all 
the weaknesses of human nature its target, 
soon perceived the weak place in his jolly 
boon companion's armour. He longed for a 


joke, insinuated himself into the lion's good 
graces, and by degrees succeeded in putting 
him off his guard. He then explained to him 
that some friends of his were desirous of 
playing the " Moor of Venice " on a stage hired 
for that purpose, but that they could find no 
one capable of undertaking the part of Othello, 
and the more so as it was absolutely neces- 
sary, to keep the local colour, that the aclor 
should stain his face and arms black. " Don't 
let that hinder you," cried his friend boldly ; 
" I am your man ; here is my hand on it!" 
With astonishing patience and gravity, Villiers 
helped his friend to rehearse, and told him 
where to get " made up." Then a dress 
rehearsal was called, to take place at the 
usual trysting-place of the band of poets. I 
need not say there never had been a question 
of playing Shakespeare's masterpiece, but, 
all the same, Villiers had summoned all the 
poets, "horse, foot, and dragoon." When 
Othello, in his splendid dress, his hands and 
face as black as those of the King of Dahomey, 
made his entrance, a general shout went up at 
the sight of the Numidian lion, who richly 


justified his title. The Prover^al was too 
sharp not to perceive at once that he had 
been duped. He took it well, and was the 
first to laugh at his own strange get-up, but 
anyone who intercepted the look with which 
he favoured the descendant of the Grand 
Master of the Order of Malta could have 
foretold his speedy revenge. He remained 
Villiers' friend, and in his turn discovered 
the defe6l in his coat of mail. Then it was 
that he laid a snare for his vanity, his patri- 
cian pride, his foolish family pretensions, 
which almost betokened genius. The son of 
the treasure- seeker was to be seduced by the 
mirage of the throne and royal crown then 
sparkling on the horizon ! The perpetrator of 
the hoax had made his calculations admirably : 
the candidature of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam 
could not seem anything abnormal to the 
public. The name was illustrious and high- 
sounding ; it was not impossible, therefore, 
that the sovereign, desirous of placing on the 
Greek throne a monarch who owed every- 
thing to him, might choose amongst the 
flower of the French nobility a person on 


whom he designed to bestow a crown. The 
thing only became improbable, laughable, 
and grotesque, when one knew the two 
chief personages, the king, and the king's 

Many people were taken in, and the ex- 
pectant king soon received the usual avalanche 
of begging letters. 

Our Matthias did not remain idle, nor dally 
with his golden dream. This throne which 
glistened with gems and precious stones 
through the blue smoke-clouds of his ciga- 
rette, tempted him much more than he 
acknowledged to himself. Instigated by his 
good friends, who were laughing at him in 
their sleeves, he drew up a request for an audi- 
ence, and sent it to the Tuileries. Some days 
afterwards, a magnificent estafette drew up 
before the house in the Rue St. Honore, and 
gave to the astonished concierge a letter sealed 
with the imperial arms, and addressed to the 
Comte Villiers de 1'Isle Adam; the audience 
was granted, and fixed for an early date. 

For the first and only time in his life, the 
poet found a tailor who gave him credit. He 


ordered a sumptuous evening coat, with all its 
appendages, and then he shut himself up in 
his own room, to study before the glass his 
entry, his gestures, and the speech which he 
would address to the sovereign. 

On his side, the terrible Southern, in whose 
ear Nemesis ceaselessly whispered, did not 
lose his time. Every day one or two news- 
papers contained some paragraph concerning 
the " French candidate." It was announced 
that the emperor was about to receive him : 
it was related that his father, the marquis, 
had had a long and cordial interview with 
Baron Rothschild. But where the Numidian 
lion really showed the wisdom of the serpent, 
was in his manner of preparing his victim for 
the impending audience. The writer, who was 
then in the throes of his novel, " Isis," had 
his imagination filled with those gloomy ad- 
ventures which give such a romantic and 
mysterious colour to the history of Italian 
principalities in the sixteenth century. He 
dreamt of nothing but palaces full of murderous 
snares, whose walls opened, whose ceilings 
descended, whose floors gaped, to stifle or en- 


tomb the imprudent mortals who allowed 
themselves to be allured into the luxurious 
and fatal dwellings of tyrants and princes. 
The contriver of the trick took admirable 
advantage of the predisposition of his viclim ; 
he reminded him that the familiars of the 
Tuileries were not over-scrupulous ; he told 
him a heap of tragic anecdotes relating to the 
morrow of the second of December, and hav- 
ing as their scene this palace, which, accord- 
ing to him, was as full of trap-doors as an 
operatic stage. Many people, he insinuated, 
who had entered that little door on the Place 
du Carrousel have never been seen to come 
out ; so let Villiers beware, for if any favourite 
had an interest in his disappearance, a trap- 
door, a dungeon, might open suddenly under 
his feet. Above all, he must absolutely refuse 
to explain himself to any but the emperor 

At last the great day came, and poor Mat- 
thias, very pale and agitated in his brand-new 
clothes, got into a hired carriage, and drove 
away to the Tuileries ; before starting, he 
made his will, and sent it to my father. 


It is difficult to tell exactly what passed at 
the Tuileries : Villiers' version is so impressed 
with romance that it is not easy to disentangle 
the real from the imaginary. What seems 
certain is that the poet was received by the 
Due de Bassano, who at that time fulfilled 
the functions of Grand Chamberlain of the 
Palace. Doubtless the old diplomatist tried 
to fathom Matthias's intentions by clever 
questioning, but he found himself confronted 
by a personage unlike any he had ever met 
in his long and adventurous career. As for 
the poet, his already heated imagination soon 
carried him into oblivion of his present where- 
abouts, to believe himself the hero of one of 
those dark and mysterious court intrigues, the 
dramatic histories of which he had lately been 
perusing. He refused to utter, would scarcely 
put his foot down without insulting precautions, 
responded coldly to the advances of his inter- 
locutor, upon whom he cast glances and deeply 
significant smiles which were quite unintel- 
ligible to the chamberlain, and finally stated, 
courteously but firmly, that he was resolved 
to speak to nobody but the emperor himself. 


" I must ask you, then, to take the trouble of 
coming another time, count," said the duke, 
rising; "his majesty is engaged, and com- 
missioned me to receive you." 

There is no doubt that the chamberlain 
took the man of genius for a lunatic, and, in 
spite of my admiration for the author of 
" L'Eve Future," I cannot wonder at it. Vil- 
liers used to relate that he was escorted 
through the apartments to the staircase by 
two muscular and threatening fellows dressed 
in black, and that he expected every moment 
to be cast into a dungeon. " For," he would 
add, " I saw, the instant I entered, that Bas- 
sano had been gained over to the son of the 
King of Denmark, and that his obje6t in sum- 
moning me to the Tuileries was to get rid of an 
inconvenient and dangerous rival ; but my cold- 
ness, my dignity, the good style and modera- 
tion of my words, doubtless impressed the 
Sbirri, and I was allowed to depart in peace." 

The claimant went home with hanging 
head, in great terror of the secret police, 
fancying he was going to be arrested, thrown 
into prison, and perhaps put to death. 



He barricaded himself into his room, and 
never left it for a week. At last the news- 
papers put an end to his anxieties and his 
ambitious hopes, by announcing the final 
nomination of his fortunate rival, the second 
son of King Christian IX., who ascended 
the throne of Greece under the title of 
George I. 

The last a<5l of the comedy had been played 
out, the curtain fell, but the principal actor 
never would believe that it was all mere fancy. 
He never doubted but that he had had the 
most serious chance of success ; and to the 
last day of his life he would describe, in his 
picturesque and glowing conversation, the 
splendid things that he would have accom- 
plished, if fortune had favoured him, and he 
had become king. 

Reader, you may laugh ! but yet, would 
much harm have been done ? would the 
Greeks have been less happy, if a gentle poet 
had borne the sceptre of the country which 
saw Aphrodite's immortal beauty rise from 
the sparkling, foam-crested sea-waves the 
country of Homer, of ^Eschylus, of Anacreon, 


of Aristophanes ? Doubtless, the reign of 
Matthias would not have resembled that of 
our late highly-respectable Louis Philippe, 
but perhaps, fired by his genius, the Greece 
of Miltiades and Themistocles, of Marathon 
and Salamis, might have felt her ancient soul 
stir within her ! The poet's kingdom is not 
alas ! of this world, and his crown is a thorny 
one. And what, indeed, is a throne that it 
should be so eagerly desired ? The hero of 
this adventure has told us in some very beau- 
tiful lines : let them form the conclusion of 
this veracious history. 

" Un trone pour celui qui reve, 
Un trone est bien sombre aujourd'hui. 
Faite des vanites humaines, 
A ses pieds saignent bien des haines, 
Souvent il voile bien des peines ! 
La foule obscure reste au seuil : 
Sapin couvert d'hermines blanches. 
II a sceptre et lauriers pour branches ; 
II est forme de quatre planches 
Absolument comme un cercueil ! " 

1 " To him whose life is full of dreams 
A throne is now a dreary seat. 
Summit of earthly vanity, 
By bloody hatreds girt about, 


The old aunt, Mdlle. Kerinou, never rose 
from the great canopied bed in which I saw 
her at the end of that memorable year, for the 
first and only time in my life. Her pure and 
simple soul took wing to the gardens of Para- 
dise, escorted by all her hopes and illusions. 
The departure of the good old lady was a ter- 
rible event for the Villiers de 1'Isle family ; 
up to now, thanks to her income, it had been 
possible to pursue the jog-trot journey of life 
without too many jolts, but her fortune, being 
for the most part in an annuity, necessarily 
died with her, and at her death these poor 
Bretons, exiled in cruel, terrible Paris, saw 
the ghost of penury rise up before them. 
The dwelling in the Rue St. Honore was 
given up, and the furniture sold. The mar- 
quise went back to the country, in the hope 
of raising some funds ; the marquis was a quia. 
He had (in connection with a wild society for 

It cloaks full oft the bitterest griefs, 
Unrecked of by the common herd. 
It's like some ermine-covered pine, 
Whose branches crown and sceptre make, 
And coffin-like, the thing is built, 
Hollow, and formed of planks of wood ! " 


working some problematic bitumen lakes) 
made acquaintance with the police court. I 
hasten to add that he left it with head eredl 
and clean hands, but his pockets were utterly 
empty. Father and son separated, and Villiers 
went to live alone, to begin that sad pilgrimage 
through Parisian lodging-houses, which lasted 
all his life, and closed in the Rue Oudinot, under 
the roof of the Brotherhood of St. J ean de Dieu. 

Soon after, I left Paris and the College 
Rollin, where I had completed my studies, to 
enter an English university. For me, too, 
the battle of life was beginning. Thence- 
forward I only heard of Villiers from time to 
time. I used to read his books, which he sent 
to my father, and often the newspapers re- 
ported his eccentricities and his deep sayings 
f.o me. On that interior stage which we all 
bear within us, and which men call memory, 
he appeared to me as a legendary personage, 
full of strange attraction, and I liked to make 
my father tell me every story he knew about 
our cousin Matthias. 

Certainly I little thought then, that these 
recollections and anecdotes would help me in 


my riper age to call up and bring to life the 
genial figure of the great Breton artist. 

Neither did I suspe<5t that, some years later, 
this great artist would become my own most 
revered teacher, my surest, most faithful, and 
most precious friend. But so it was to be. 
During three years, from 1877 to 1880, we 
lived side by side in an absolute and constant 
intellectual intimacy. And if, even now, the 
love of the ideal and of the imperishably 
beautiful consoles me for much that is horrible, 
much that is wretched, much that is mediocre 
and unworthy, it is to Villiers de 1'Isle Adam 
that I owe it ; he it is, who, on those dark 
nights, when our feet trod the mud of Lutetia, 
eloquently pointed out to me the starry way. 

In order then to conclude these notes, it 
remains for me to relate that part of the poet's 
life of which I was the almost daily witness. 


My return to Paris The Hotel d'Orleans My search 
for Villiers Our reunion The earlier stages 
of his lawsuit The historical drama of "Perrinet 
Leclerc " Paul Cleves, director of the Porte 
St. Martin Theatre The Marechal Jean de 1'Isle 
Adam, according to Messrs. Lockroy and Anicet 
Bourgeois Villiers' fury Letters to the press A 
summons A memorandum Intervention of M. de 
Villiers Provocation A duel arranged Settlement 
on the ground Result of the aclion Biographer's 
reservations Documentary evidence. 

OWARDS the autumn of 1876, at 
the close of a long journey in 
Switzerland, I returned to Paris, 
my eyes still dazzled by the 
glamour of virgin snows, inaccessible peaks, 
glistening glaciers, and the great blue lake 
wherein melancholy Chillon reflects its gloomy 
keep. Through that land of mountain, fir- 


wood, and torrent, the spirit of my father, 
whose death I yet mourned, had been with 
me everywhere, teaching me the better to 
appreciate and admire the sublimity of those 
landscapes for which he had always had a sort 
of passionate fondness. My entry into France 
was still haunted by the paternal presence, 
and I hurried to the old Hotel d' Orleans, 
where we had spent so many years together, 
while I, alas ! was too young and frivolous to 
profit by the counsels of that wise and gene- 
rous mind. Whether it was by chance, or by 
a delicate attention on the part of the old host 
of the inn, I know not, but I was given my 
father's old room, and my first night was 
haunted by the shadows of the past. During 
those silent watches I lived through many an 
episode of my schoolboy days again, and many 
familiar faces passed before my eyes, some 
faintly looming in the shadow and as quickly 
disappearing, others clearly outlined and con- 
stantly recurring. Amongst these last, the 
big fair head of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam con- 
stantly reappeared, his eyes seeming to gaze 
on me intently, and to reproach me with my 


long neglect. Ah, no ! I had not, indeed, 
forgotten him. But the adventures and wor- 
ries of life had up to this prevented me from 
seeking him out, and, since the childish days 
already referred to, I had never beheld him. 
But I resolved not to leave Paris this time 
without finding him, and binding our two 
selves together with bonds as strong and as 
affectionate as those which had once united 
him and my father. 

The next evening, before the dinner hour, 
I sought him along the boulevard. Every 
habitiUt every lounger, from the Cafe" de la 
Paix to the Cafe de Madrid, knew Villiers de 
1'Isle Adam, but nobody knew where he lived, 
nor could tell where he might be found. He 
was, so they said, peculiarly a night-bird, and 
almost all those who mentioned him to me had 
made his acquaintance at unearthly hours, 
in out-of-the-way brasseries. None of this 
information was of much service to me, and I 
was beginning rather to despair, when a sud- 
den downpour of rain drove me to take refuge 
in the entry of the Passage Gouffroy. I was 
mechanically watching the play of light and 


shade caused by the shower, when suddenly, 
and without an instant's hesitation, in spite of 
the lapse of years, in spite of the change which 
the fight for existence had wrought in his 
appearance, I recognized him ! There are 
some strong individualities which age, care, 
even sickness, cannot alter. They are un- 
changeable. And Villiers was one of these. 

He was coming into the passage from the 
rear, a big bundle of manuscript under his 
arm, with that elastic yet hesitating tread I 
so well remembered, taking quick, short steps, 
looking preoccupied and flurried at once, as 
he passed through the throng. 

Poor great poet ! judging by his hat, which 
was worn red with age, the thin threadbare 
frock-coat which concealed his shirt, the 
trousers with their frayed hem, Fortune, that 
jade, had treated him with condign scorn. 
What matter! As he came towards me, I 
read neither discouragement nor despair upon 
his ageing features. There was the same pale 
uncertain blue eye, lost in its dream, and 
beneath the fair moustache, already turning 
grey, the full mouth smiled as at some secret 


vision. He was, in good sooth, far from earth 
at that moment, and there seemed to me some- 
thing proud and noble, amidst that jostling, 
pushing crowd of wet, muddy, common-look- 
ing passers-by, in the scornful indifference of 
the great thinker to the human rabble through 
which he passed, all unseeing, like the sleep- 
walker of some oriental tale. 

As he drew near to me, the memory of our 
first meeting in the dining-room of the old 
house at Fougeres came back to me, and 
touching his shoulder gently, I addressed him 
with a slight variation of the words he used 
when he found me, a child in disgrace, eating 
my solitary breakfast at the deserted family 
board : " Good morning, cousin ! you don't 
know me. I am your cousin Robert !" 

He started like a man suddenly roused from 
sleep, and raised his eyes to mine. His usually 
lustreless glance brightened ; we fell into each 
other's arms, and embraced shamelessly coram 
populo. Doubtless Heaven smiled on our re- 
union, for the setting sun was making the 
wet pavements and roofs shine again, as arm 
in arm we went out upon the boulevards. 


It was during that first evening's converse, 
which cemented the friendship of our man- 
hood's years, that Villiers de 1'Isle Adam 
recounted to me the earlier stages of the 
strange action which he was about to bring 
against the Lockroy family and the heirs of 
the melodramatic playwright, Anicet Bour- 
geois a most fantastic lawsuit, which 
amused and interested all Paris for several 
months, and of which I desire now to relate 
the apparently improbable incidents. 

It happened, then, one winter evening in 
1876, that my cousin Matthias was dreaming 
along the Boulevard du Crime, when, as he 
passed before the Porte St. Martin Theatre, 
its facade, lighted up as it usually was on 
important occasions, attracted his attention. 
He drew near to the advertisement boards, 
and started on seeing, below the title of the 
play of which a reproduction was to be given 
that night, " Perrinet Leclerc," an historical 
drama in five acts, by Messrs. Lockroy and 
Anicet Bourgeois, the name of his own illus- 
trious ancestor, the Marshal Jean de Villiers 
de 1'Isle Adam, occupying a line by itself. 


" What ! " roared the poet, " they have put 
the glorious marshal on the stage unknown 
to me? Ha! ha! We'll have some fun!" 
and he hastened to the box office. 

The Porte St. Martin Theatre was at that 
time under the management of a very worthy 
fellow of the name of Paul Cleves, who had 
been in his time a good actor, and who, 
though not literary himself, was full of 
respectful admiration for the literary merits 
of others. He had a reverence not unmixed 
with awe for the eccentric genius of Villiers, 
and the moment he saw him he hurried with 
outstretched hands to meet him and place 
him in the managerial box, so that he might 
not lose a word nor a gesture of the actor 
personifying that famous warrior whose de- 
scendant the poet was. But, after the second 
act, Villiers reappeared in the unfortunate 
Cleves' private room, pale, trembling, and 
bristling with fury. "Sir!" he cried, with a 
tragic gesture, "two ignorant and conceited 
clowns, Lockroy and Bourgeois, have en- 
deavoured to degrade one of the most illus- 
trious warriors of the fourteenth century, 


whose name it is my glory to bear, and 
whose reputation it is my duty to defend ! 
You have allowed this infamy to be com- 
mitted, and I call upon you, sir, to withdraw 
the play to-morrow." 

" But, my dear Villiers, it is impossible ! " 
cried Cleves, when he had recovered from his 
profound astonishment, " consider ! it would be 
my ruin. It would be certain bankruptcy ! 
my engagements " 

"Ruin, bankruptcy, engagements! These 
are nothing to me. You should have 
warned me before you accepted this non- 
sensical stuff." 

" I never accepted it. It has been in the 
repertory since 1834!" 

" Enough, sir. I understand you to refuse ? 
Very good, I shall apply to the authors the 
authors, I say. Where are the authors ? " 

" They are dead !" 

" Well for them ! But they must have left 
children, heirs, representatives. That cur, 
that Simon, whose name is not even Lockroy, 
has a descendant who has made stir enough in 
this third Republic of yours ! Well, we shall 


see ! For the last time, Cleves, do you refuse 
to withdraw the play ? " 

The Unlucky manager had become speech- 
less, but he made a sign with his head which 
seemed to signify that it was impossible to 
grant such a request. 

" Very well, then," said the poet, " you 
and your accomplices shall hear from me ! " 
And he went out in a fury. 

Those who can recollect Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam's idolatrous worship for the memory of 
his ancestors will understand this outbreak of 
rage when I state that this unlucky so-called 
historical drama by Messrs. Lockroy and 
Bourgeois represented the Marechal de 1'Isle 
Adam as a disloyal nobleman and an abomi- 
nable traitor traitor, not in favour of the Duke 
of Burgundy, nor of the Duke of Orleans, 
but traitor to his own country, to his poor 
mad king, delivering both over to the English 
power, and aiding Henry V. to place upon his 
own head the crown torn from that of the 
rightful sovereign. All this was absolutely 
contrary to the truth. Jean de 1'Isle Adam, 
the friend and right-hand man of the Duke 


of Burgundy, was, it is true, the most ardent 
partisan of John the Bold, and took possession 
of Paris in his name. As to the English, 
Jean refused the splendid offers of Henry V., 
who cast him into the Bastille, whence he 
only emerged after that prince's death. 
Thenceforward he warred ceaselessly against 
the British, from whom he recaptured Pon- 
toise in 1435. Such are the historical facts 
of the case. But the authors of " Perrinet 
Leclerc" cared little for that. To those 
makers of melodramas, history was but a 
mine to supply their own lack of imagina- 
tion, and its personages merely obliging 
dummies, to be dressed up in glory or 
infamy, according to the needs of their case. 
They wanted a traitor, and they simply took 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, in all good faith, 
never dreaming that there would appear, five 
hundred years after the fulfilment of the 
events they were putting on the stage, in this 
fin-de-siecle and gaping Paris of ours, a poet 
who was ready to make himself the champion 
and the vigorous defender of his outraged 
ancestor ! 


Never did Villiers show such activity, such 
physical and moral energy, as in the course of 
this business. For my own part, my know- 
ledge of him leads me to the opinion that, in 
spite of all his indignation, he rather enjoyed 
the adventure. The excitement of the judi- 
cial struggle, the newspaper polemics, the 
ransacking of libraries both far and near, put 
a new interest into his life, and freed his mind 
for a while from the dreams which so inces- 
santly haunted it. And that arch-scoffer must 
have felt a curious secret amusement in 
obliging all that army of solicitors, barristers, 
judges, and their deputies, to occupy them- 
selves with the affairs of an illustrious old 
gentleman who had been dead for four hun- 
dred and fifty years, to decipher the quaint 
and incomprehensible manuscripts of the 
thirteenth century, and to busy themselves, 
under the reign of Grevy, Wilson, and 
Co., with the concerns of Charles VI. the 
Bienaime, of John the Bold, and of the fatally 
fascinating Isabeau of Bavaria. 

But to begin at the beginning. The very 
morning after that memorable performance, 



there appeared in several daily papers a 
haughty and indignant letter from the last of 
the De 1'Isle Adams, in which he brilliantly 
vindicated his right to defend his illustrious 
relative from opprobrium. He blasted in a few 
scorching phrases, conceived in ineffable scorn 
for all dealers in such second-hand literary 
wares, the work of the two unlucky collabora- 
tors ; and he finally declared that he was 
about to appeal to the laws of the country to 
obtain for them the chastisement of their 
crime of treason against the national glory. 
There was much giggling along the boule- 
vards at the poet's new freak. The collateral 
heirs of the acting rights of the play turned a 
deaf ear to his threat, and " Perrinet Leclerc " 
still held the bills, its success much increased 
by this fresh puff. Forward, then, the 
officers, the formalities, the dusty papers, all 
the creaking machinery of the law ! A clever 
and intelligent young barrister, an acquain- 
tance of Villiers, eagerly seized on this oppor- 
tunity of distinguishing himself; for this action 
was to stir both the law courts and the boule- 
vards, and those who had to do with it soon 
became famous. 


The representatives of Lockroy and of 
Anicet Bourgeois had to file their answer to 
the summons duly served upon them a sum- 
mons praying- that they might be forbidden to 
continue the performances of a play wherein 
they libelled and calumniated the direcl; ances- 
tor of the plaintiff, "the said Philippe Auguste 
Matthias de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, man of 
letters, which summons has been personally 
delivered at the defendants' house. Here- 
with a copy, whereof the price," etc., etc., etc. 

The defendants' answer was rather clever. 
They asked the tribunal to rule that the 
plaintiff's plea was inadmissible : firstly, be- 
cause he offered no proof of his boasted direct 
descent from the illustrious house of Villiers 
de 1'Isle Adam ; secondly, because the chro- 
nicles of the time, and notably that of the Monk 
of St. Denis, authorized the writers of " Per- 
rinet Leclerc " in presenting the conduct of 
the Marshal de 1'Isle Adam during the civil 
wars of the reign of Charles VI. in an un- 
favourable light ; thirdly, because the said 
Marshal de 1'Isle Adam being an historical 
personage, any writer might criticise or praise 


him, according to conscience or personal 
opinion, without being liable to any action on 
that score. Thus the fight began. 

And now, for some weeks, Matthias was 
undiscoverable. He buried himself in the 
libraries and the archives, amongst which his 
clear mind called up all that gloomy and 
romantic period which began at the infancy 
of Charles VI. and ended on the day when 
Jeanne d'Arc led the weak-kneed Charles VI I. 
to Rheims, to be anointed king. When the 
lawsuit began, nothing remained to Villiers 
of the family inheritance. Pressed by poverty, 
father and son had parted with everything ; 
but they still preserved the precious family 
archives, and the poet possessed irrefragable 
proof of his descent. 

When, therefore, he had sufficiently studied 
the formidable heap of documents bearing on 
the ten years of civil war which stained the 
close of the reign of Charles VI., he prayed 
leave to support his request against the 
authors of " Perrinet Leclerc " : firstly, by the 
proof, resting on authentic records, of his de- 
scent from that Marshal de 1'Isle Adam whose 


honour he claimed to defend ; secondly, by 
proving that no contemporary chronicler gave 
to his ancestor that odious character which 
Messrs. Lockroy and Bourgeois had dared to 
make him play in the history of his time. 
And, he added, if it was true that the so-called 
Chronicle of the Monk of St. Denis did con- 
tain a sentence which permitted any doubt on 
that score, it was established, on the other 
hand, that these memoirs had no character 
for authenticity, that they were held in sus- 
picion by all competent historians, and that, 
in any case, it was sufficient to read the manu- 
script to be convinced that it was a partial 
work, and that its author belonged to that 
faction which was hostile to the Duke of 
Burgundy, the friend of De 1'Isle Adam. 

To this second appeal Villiers added a long 
memorandum, addressed to the judges. I do 
not know what has become of this manuscript. 
I hope that those persons who have under- 
taken, with so much zeal and devotion, the 
posthumous publication of the works of the 
author of "Axel," may have it in their pos- 
session. In it the great writer appears in a 


new light. This sketch of the life of the 
Marshal de 1'Isle Adam is a masterpiece of 
clearness and style, a gifted and magnificent 
word-picture of the end of the thirteenth cen- 
tury, a strong and closely-reasoned piece of 
work, in which the fervent eloquence of his 
pleading for the thesis he defends never fetters 
the critical and investigating faculty of its 

Thus matters stood when I joined Villiers 
in Paris. The adversaries were armed at all 
points, and only waited the close of the vaca- 
tion to go before the courts. 

All at once, an unexpected event, a tragi- 
comic incident, gave a fresh interest to the 

I have related, in the early pages of these 
recollections, how a family bearing the name 
of Villiers, but which had shown no proof of 
direct descent from the Grand Master of the 
Knights of Malta, had been authorized, at the 
time of the return of the Bourbons, to add the 
name of L'Isle Adam to its own patronymic. 
Just as our Villiers was emerging from his 
tent, armed cap a pit, and lance in rest, to 


defend his ancestral glory and good fame 
against the calumnies of two playwrights, the 
representative of this other family, a young 
officer, very proud of the great name he bore, 
and exceedingly ignorant, as it seems, of his 
real origin, returned from Africa. Honestly 
believing himself the scion of those heroes 
who had shed glory on the name of De 1'Isle 
Adam, his rage and stupefaction may be 
imagined when, hardly had he arrived home, 
ere his friends and relations placed before him 
various newspapers, which reported with much 
comment, and wit seasoned with Attic salt, the 
particulars of the action brought by the high- 
born poet against the guilty authors of " Per- 
rinet Leclerc." Incredible as it seems in 
these days, when the press penetrates every- 
where, the young warrior appears to have 
ignored till then the existence of one of the 
best-known literary men in Paris. He fancied 
the author of " Isis " to be some scribbling 
adventurer who had picked up for himself, out 
of history, a name which he believed to be ex- 
tinct. In the heat of his indignation, he wrote 
a letter to a great daily paper, and as the 


officer knew more about the cavalry sword- 
exercise than about the amenities of our 
beautiful French language, his communication 
was at once plain-spoken, rude, and aggres- 
sive, claiming his right to bear the name of 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, and avowing that 
any other person calling himself by that 
name usurped it. This warlike missive soon 
appeared, and forthwith all the venomous 
small fry of the press, all the envious scrib- 
blers, all the failures whom Villiers' talent 
had overshadowed, and whom his bitter jests 
had wounded, pounced upon this lucky wind- 
fall. Along the boulevards, from the Made- 
leine to the Gymnase, at the hour of the 
absinthe queen, their little poisonous speeches 
were to be heard on every side : " That poor 
Villiers ! Don't you know ? Not De 1'Isle 
Adam at all ! It was a name he took ! / 
always thought so ! It seems he is really the 
son of a small grocer at Guingamp." 

Ah ! why cannot we sear the lips of slan- 
derers with a red-hot iron ? Shame on those 
dastards ! for this time at least they managed 
to pierce my friend to the heart. All those 


who knew him well, knew that beneath his 
strange exterior and his cold mask of scorn 
Villiers had a noble ardent soul, which must 
have suffered cruelly under the thousand 
anonymous stings which were inflicted on his 
pride. But the blood of the marshal and the 
grand master boiled in his veins, and on the 
very day of the insult the officer was waited 
upon by two poet-friends of the writer, who 
came from the Comte Philippe Auguste de 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam to demand reparation 
for the outrage offered to their principal. 
The adversary was brave, and accepted 
without flinching the meeting which was 
proposed to him ; and the seconds having 
conferred, it was arranged that all should go, 
armed with swords, the day after the next 
following, on a little expedition to the neigh- 
bourhood of Vesinet. Meanwhile, one of the 
seconds of Matthias, a sensible man, though 
a violent Parnassian, struck by the exceed- 
ingly correct demeanour of the other party, 
thought it might not be altogether useless to 
submit to him certain genealogical proofs 
which would demonstrate to him that right 


was not altogether on his side, as he fancied. 
After a severe struggle he induced Villiers to 
lend him those famous and precious family 
documents for the space of twenty-four hours, 
and sent them to the cavalry lieutenant with 
an urgent request that he would read them 
before the hour fixed for the meeting. The 
result was amazing. M. de Villiers was a 
loyal, good-hearted, and very chivalrous man. 
He appeared on the ground at the appointed 
hour, advanced towards the real Villiers de 
1'Isle Adam, made him a bow, and offered 
him the most courteous apology, adding that 
it was only on the preceding evening that he 
had learnt the truth. It was worth hearing 
Villiers, with his tragic gestures, and the per- 
petual wagging of his front fair lock, retail 
the incidents of this coup de theatre. " Sir ! " 
he would cry, " my sword dropped from my 
hand, when I heard this pale young man, with 
his brave and resigned face, tell me, with an 
evident effort, that, French officer as he was, 
he would rather pass for a coward than fight 
in support of a lie. I opened my arms. I 
folded him to my heart. I told him he was 


worthy to be allied with the illustrious dead 
whose representative I was ; and in my 
father's name and my own, I authorized, nay, 
I besought him to continue to bear the name 
of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam!" 

But everything, even lawsuits, must come 
to an end ; and one fine morning the judges 
gave their decision in the extraordinary 
case of " L'Isle Adam versus Simon, alias 
Lockroy, and Anicet Bourgeois." As my 
reader will be prepared to learn, the tribunal 
refused the poor poet's appeal, deeming it 
inadmissible because, as the marshal was 
historical property, every author had a right 
to show him in whatever light suited him 
best ; especially when he based his judgment, 
as in the case of the writers of " Perrinet 
Leclerc," on the evidence of contemporary 
documents and memoirs, such as the Chronicle 
of the Monk of St. Denis. But one conso- 
lation Villiers had. The preamble of the 
judgment established those direct ties of 
descent which made him the last represen- 
tative of that famous and heroic warrior who 
was the friend of the great Duke of Burgundy. 


When I learnt these events from the poet's 
lips, they were already in the limbo of the 

Were I not possessed with an instinctive 
and not altogether unreasonable horror of 
foot-notes, I would inflict one on my readers, 
a propos to this trial, to state that I have 
related the whole of it from recollection a 
recollection graven upon my memory by the 
picturesque recitals of my gifted and much 
regretted cousin. In thus summing up, with- 
out actually vouching for the facts of the 
story, I trust I have not trangressed in any 
particular against the truth. But in any case 
I shall be very glad to accept any verification 
which may be kindly submitted to me. 

I think further, that I shall do no preju- 
dice to the memory of Villiers, if I frankly 
confess that I entertain some serious doubt 
concerning the alleged handsome retraction 
made by his opponent on the scene of 
the intended duel. The poet was in the 
habit of dramatizing all the incidents of his 
daily life into enchanting stories. Their 
groundwork was generally true, but he 


would arrange the scene, invent incidents, 
and create personages, in obedience appa- 
rently to his aesthetic instincl:, or perhaps 
rather to his wild innate longing to mystify 
his audience. In this particular case my 
suspicion is supported by the following suc- 
cincl: and nobly-expressed letter, addressed to 
him by his adversary, and which, necessarily, 
put an end to their difference. At all events 
this document proves that our author was in 
the right. 

" Paris, 

"February i6t/i, 1877. 


" I can only bow before the incontest- 
ably authentic title-deeds which you have 
been so good as to communicate to me, and 
which indeed establish unanswerably your 
descent from that family of Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam whose name is written in such glorious 
characters upon the pages of our history, and 
in whose ranks figures the Marshal Jean, 
whose memory, in spite of what anyone may 
say, remains above all suspicion. 

" This does not, however, alter the fa6l that 


a royal ordinance, dated September 7, 1815, 
and inserted in the ' Bulletin des Lois,' autho- 
rizes my grandfather, Vicomte Joseph-Gabriel, 
son of Francois- 1 gnace de Villiers des Champs, 
and of Dame Deshere le Borgue de Villement, 
his wife, to add to his name of Villiers that of 
De 1'Isle Adam. 

" There appears to me to be no objecl: to 
be gained by going into the genealogy of my 
family, which has given knights and com- 
manders to the Order of St. Louis and 
marshals to France, which is allied to the 
Rohans, etc., etc. 

" And, in conclusion, if, contrary to my 
expectations, the explanations contained in 
this letter do not appear to you to suffice, 
pray be assured that I hold myself entirely 
at your disposal. 


While I am about quoting the documents 
bearing on this curious business, the reader 
may be glad that I should conclude by giving 
the principal passages of the fine letter written 
by Villiers to the newspapers of the day, in 


answer to the mean and spiteful attacks of 
which he was then the object. 

"Paris (undated, probably January, 1877). 
" To the Editor of 

" SIR, 

" This is my answer to the article you 
have published concerning me. I desire that 
it may suffice for all those of your colleagues 
of the press, who have been good enough to 
devote their precious time to me, and busy 
themselves with my name, during the past 

" It has been claimed that my sole object 
in bringing an action against the proprietors 
of the play ' Perrinet Leclerc,' was to establish 
the genealogical succession of my own family. 
Now I may remark that for eight-and-thirty 
years I committed the grave indiscretion of 
never giving that question a thought, believ- 
ing it (with others whose duty calls them to 
consider it) so clearly established that I could 
afford to smile at any discussion of the sub- 
ject. I may further remark that it was only 


the request of counsel on the other side 
which obliged me to produce any such proofs 
at all. It seems strange, then, that this re- 
proach should be made to me by the very 
adversaries who attacked me on this point at 
the moment when I myself was about to 
desist from the struggle. 

" It has been asserted that there is a gap in 
the sequence of my family genealogy. Now 
genealogy is an exacl: science, which no more 
admits of a mistake than does algebra. In it 
' five centuries ' mean nothing. They should 
have been described as ' twelve generations.' 

" The records of the Order of Malta, in 
which the whole nobility of France and of 
Europe are concerned, are indisputable evi- 
dence all over the world, and that Order would 
not give a careless decision concerning the 
descendants of a Grand Master such as the 
one whose name I bear. 

"That a clerk should write a 3 instead of a 
9 on the hasty copy of a title of the order, 
and that (in spite of the opportunities given 
by me during two years for free and open 
investigation) such an error should be quoted 


against the absolute authoritativeness of my 
title-deeds, is, I repeat, merely a matter cal- 
culated to raise a smile. In any case, I shall 
bring the fa6ls before the French Record 

" I descend from Jean de 1'Isle Adam as 
directly as any of you gentlemen descends 
from his own father ; and, in spite of the 
' Chronique de St. Denis,' I have some reason 
to be proud of the fa6l. 

" I am asked what interest I had in vexing 
my soul concerning a play which outrages his 
pure and sacred memory ; and it is affirmed 
that I simply desired to puff myself by doing 
so. A man is but that which his own thoughts 
make him. And for my only answer, I 
would beg those who have had this thought 
concerning me, to guard it preciously. They 
are quite worthy of it, and I shall never care 
to claim either their sympathy or esteem. . . . 

" There is as much truth in this assertion 
as in that which claims to have discovered a 
gap in the direcl: succession of my family 
about the year 1535. It is a wonderful thing 
to note how lightheartedly a lawyer will cast 



doubt on the records of the Order of Malta, 
which are an article of faith to the nobility of 
the whole world ; on the signed attestations 
whereby provincial bishops have recognized 
three centuries of publicly-admitted family 
rights ; on the signatures of ambassadors and 
consuls, both French and English ; and on 
that of the Minister of Justice himself! 

" I have no right to submit myself to any 
legal investigation on this head. An inves- 
tigation of what ? Of my claims to be of 
noble descent ? But the only course left to 
the law courts themselves must be to bow to 
those claims, which are established by the 
only tribunal to which I can in honour appeal. 
One alone, among the signatures with which 
these parchments swarm, suffices to prove 
my contention. The text of the ' Declaration 
of the Order of Malta ' runs as follows : 
' Notum facimus et in verbo veritatis attes- 
tamur ut in judicio pleno ac indubia fides 
adhibeatur. . . . 

" ' We declare under our seal and that of the 
Papal Bull published this day, that Armand 
de I'lsle Adam, admitted a knight of this 


Order, has proved his quarterings in the 
most indisputable manner. 

"'We, Caumartin, Intendant de Cham- 
pagne, bear witness to the correctness of the 
genealogy of, etc., etc., etc. 

" 'We, Bishop of St. Brieuc, ourselves con- 
nected through the family of De Verdalle 
with the Knights of Malta, bear witness 
that for the last three hundred years it has 
been matter of public notoriety that, etc., 
etc., etc.' 

" How can you expect any law court to 
pronounce for or against, in such a matter ? 
How can any newspaper chatter affect it? 
Centuries have rolled by. You come in too 
late. These are accomplished facts ! " 


Le Pin Galant, near Bordeaux Arrival of Villiers 
with his play" The New World "The American 
centenary competition The character of Mistress 
Andrews The legend of Ralph Evandale. 

HILE Villiers was thus struggling 
with the gentlemen of the wig and 
gown in the Paris law courts, I 
followed his movements from afar 
with considerable anxiety. In my retirement 
in one of those pretty one-storied houses 
near Bordeaux which the people in the south 
poetically term a " Chartreuse," I trembled as 
I tore asunder the wrapper of my Paris paper 
every morning, lest I should learn that Vil- 
liers, whose fearfully over-excited condition 
was well known to me, had given way to 
some eccentricity or some dangerous act of 
violence. I kept on writing to beseech him 


to leave Paris, and to come and share my 
solitude, redolent of the healthy odour of 
the pine forests, enlivened by the impetuous 
rush of the great river dotted with white and 
fluttering sails, and ideal with its spreading 
horizons bathed in the purple and gold of the 
exquisite southern sunsets. 

But, alas ! he wrapped himself in dis- 
heartening silence, and his shadow fell not 
on the snow-white steps which led to the 
Pin Galant, as my temporary dwelling was 

One day, however, the " Figaro " brought 
me news of his speedy arrival, in the form of 
a letter published on its first page, and bear- 
ing his signature. I have not this document 
before me, but I know that in it he refuted, 
in his usual sarcastic style, some fresh per- 
fidious insinuation concerning the imperfect 
authenticity of the name he bore. The 
last sentence of the letter, however, which 
gave me a lively thrill of joy, is for ever 
graven on my memory. I quote it, as being 
exceedingly characteristic. " I am on the 
point of starting for Pin Galant, not far 


from the Spanish frontier. Lovers of another 
style of conversation, more silent than that of 
human tongues, are requested to note this 

He duly appeared a few days later, without 
having otherwise announced himself. 

It was on one of those torrid afternoons 
known only to the inhabitants of the south, 
that Villiers arrived on foot from the neigh- 
bouring village, whither the omnibus from 
Bordeaux had brought him. He was simply 
dressed, in black kerseymere trousers, a loose 
grey overcoat trimmed with fur ( ! ), and a 
well-worn but shiny chimneypot hat. In his 
hand he victoriously flourished a huge walk- 
ing-stick. The big pockets of his unseason- 
ably thick overcoat bulged in a manner which 
alarmed me for their solidity. At first I 
thought he was using them as a carpet-bag, 
for he brought no sign of any other luggage 
with him. But my mistake only lasted a few 
minutes. Hardly had he entered, when, 
after the first cordial greetings, he pulled out 
of his vast pockets five thick manuscript 
pamphlets, piling them one upon the other, 


and his white, prelatical hand waving with 
the air of a bishop a sort of benedictory 
gesture, he exclaimed, " Like Columbus at 
the feet of his Spanish sovereign, even so lay 
I the 'New World' at the feet of your 
majesty and my good cousin ! " The books 
contained, in good truth, the manuscript of 
his magnificent drama in five acts, entitled 
" Le Nouveau Monde," which had gained 
the first place, the year before, in the com- 
petition instituted in honour of the United 
States, but which had not yet found an 
opening on the Parisian stage. 

Before relating the adventures of Villiers 
and his manuscript at Bordeaux, I think it 
will be of interest to scholars if I give some 
explanation of the origin of this dramatic 
work, which, in spite of its admirable qualities, 
is almost unknown at this present time. In 
1880 Villiers de 1'Isle Adam found a pub- 
lisher bold enough to issue it at his own risk, 
and his name deserves to be recorded. It 
was M. Richard, printer and publisher, of 
the Passage de 1'Opera. The pamphlet is 
now almost out of print. Villiers had pre- 


ceded his play by an "Address to the 
Reader," to which I shall return later, in 
its proper time and place, and by a very 
short preface, which I quote in its entirety, 
because it explains far better than I could 
the peculiar circumstances which gave birth 
to the work. 

"In 1875 a dramatic competition was an- 
nounced by the theatrical press of Paris. A 
medal of honour, even a sum of 10,000 francs, 
and other temptations, were offered to the 
French dramatic author who should most 
powerfully recall, in a work of four or five a6ls, 
the episode of the proclamation of the inde- 
pendence of the United States, the hundredth 
anniversary of which fell on July 4th, 1876. 

"The two examining juries were thus com- 
posed. The first, of the principal critics of 
the French theatrical press. The second, of 
M. Victor Hugo, honorary president, Messrs. 
Emile Augier, Octave Feuillet, and Ernest 
Legouve, members of the French Academy, 
Mr. Grenville Murray, representing the " New 
York Herald," and M. Perrin, administrator- 
general of the Theatre Fra^ais. 


" The preliminary jury were to select five 
manuscripts; the final jury, to class these 
manuscripts in what may be called their in- 
tellectual order. 

" Six months were allowed for writing the 
works, and about a hundred plays, signed 
with mottoes only, were forwarded to the in- 
ternational agency of M. Theodore Michaelis, 
the inaugurator of the competition. 

" More than a year elapsed while the gentle- 
men of the theatrical press were examining 
the dramas. 

" The titles of the selected works were pub- 
lished, and among them appeared that of 
the ' Nouveau Monde.' 

" Two more months passed by. At last, 
on the 22nd of January, 1876, an official 
notice signed by the superior jury informed 
me that the ' Nouveau Monde,' had of all 
the competing works, passed with most 
honour through the double ordeal." 

The attractions of the programme had 
been well arranged to tempt any dramatic 
author. Yet it was not the medal of honour, 
nor even the dream of the ten thousand 


francs, which induced the creator of Bonhomet 
to compete. It was the proposed subject ; 
above all, the conditions imposed for its treat- 
ment. From the theatrical point of view, 
Villiers had always dreamt of being an inno- 
vator in historical drama. His idea was that 
the characteristics of the nation, or the event 
which was to be portrayed, should be im- 
ported into the framework of some personal 
intrigue, in which each individual of the 
dramatis personce should personify in his lan- 
guage, attitude, or actions, some one of the 
numerous elements produced by the friction 
of the incidents of the story. And in the 
very terms of the programme by which the 
competitors were bound, he found the oppor- 
tunity for realizing this conception. For the 
rules of the competition dictated, amongst 
other obligations, that the work must be 
written with special reference to July 4th, 
1776; at the same time requiring a dramc 
intime, in which the event of the 4th July 
was only to be superadded to the story. 

In the author's mind, then, " Le Nouveau 
Monde" is, before all else, a symbolic drama, 


and each of its personages admirably repre- 
sents the idea, the principle, the nation, of 
which he or she is the mouthpiece. Thus, in 
Lord Raleigh Cecil the author has incarnated 
the principle of royalism, as in Stephen 
Ashwell he has typified the principle of 
liberty. "In my play," writes Villiers in his 
preface, " Lord Cecil, under a veil of almost 
totally imaginary circumstances, replaces and 
sums up Lord Percy, General Howe, and 
many others. He is, as it were, the golden 
sovereign, stamped with the effigy of the 
King of England." 

It is hardly my place, in these personal 
recollections, to endeavour to heighten the 
merits of this work of Villiers. But I may 
be permitted to lay stress on some details of 
an original production, so little known to the 
literary public, and yet so worthy of its atten- 
tion. To those of us who are not yet emas- 
culated by the terrible invasion of common- 
place ideas, " Le Nouveau Monde" remains 
one of the best constructed, deepest, and most 
passionate dramas of the present day. It 
has had the great honour of being sneered at 


by M. Francisque Sarcey, who has besprinkled 
the chara6ler of Mistress Andrews with the 
salt of his Attic wit. To some superficial 
minds this character may seem impressed 
with romantic exaggeration. Yet it has been 
learnedly imagined and laboriously premedi- 
tated by a writer who was neither a novice 
nor a simpleton in literature. Villiers fore- 
saw that it would be exposed to the cheap 
jests of those self-important gentry, the 
critics of the weekly papers. In his "Address 
to the Reader " he has taken pains to explain 
his conception, and this page of his, full of 
an intense personality, so wonderfully and 
rhythmically written, cannot fail to charm 
my readers. It seems to me it must 
make every true artist desire to read that 
" Nouveau Monde " so lately cut up by the 
feuilletonists. Here it is : 

" Mistress Andrews is the sombre reflection 
of that feudalism of which Lord Cecil repre- 
sents the brighter side, and I find myself 
obliged to say a few words in explanation of 
the almost fantastic character with which she 
is endued. This woman's personality is 


formed by the cohesion of intellectual and 
sensitive elements of far too high an order to 
be strictly human. Some peculiarities of the 
character seem to be ultra-feminine. There- 
fore, in order to legitimatize them in her 
case, I have had to surround her with a 
legendary halo, to make her a sort of 
American Melusina. It has appeared to me 
to be logically indispensable to the vitality, 
even the possibility, of the character, to 
endow her with a mysterious mark, actually 
imprinted in her flesh, a gory impress which 
shall appear only at the hour of death, 
a sign, in fact, the heritage of the curse of 
centuries, with the extraordinary horror of 
which popular tradition surrounds her name. 
I have desired thus to create the type of a 
strange, stormy, embittered soul the daughter 
of a race haunted by melancholy, by silence, 
and by fate. A thousand shattered splen- 
dours appear athwart this gloomy character, 
even as mirrors and goblets would shiver, 
and daggers flash, against the arras of an 
ancient palace wherein some ducal orgy had 
been held. This having been said, some excla- 


mations in the part, antiquated ones, perhaps, 
explain and make themselves acceptable, 
pronounced as they are by a being of so 
peculiar a nature." 

But what was that " mysterious mark 
actually impressed upon this woman's flesh," 
this gory print which was only to appear 
at the death hour ? What " the legendary 
halo" which surrounds the terrible Mistress 
Andrews ? An old woman, Mistress Noella, 
describes it by the light of a camp-fire, in 
the midst of the virgin forest of the New 
World. The splendidly-related legend, which 
was almost entirely suppressed in the shape- 
less performance of this fine play at the 
Theatre des Nations, must be inserted here, 
for several good reasons : first, for the sake 
of the curious, for it is as good as unpub- 
lished ; further, it is an admirable prose- 
poem, whose place is marked in the antho- 
logies of the future; and finally, it is a 
wonderful example of the peculiar genius of 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. 

The few friends who have heard him recite 
it, pale, trembling, and haggard, under the 


light of the midnight lamp terrifying, and 
terrified himself by his own story will recall 
as they read these lines the tragic and 
infectious dread which he threw into his 

" One evening the knight Ralph Evandale, 
returning to his castle from the Wars of the 
Roses, heard on the mountain the sound of 
singing in his ancestral halls. In coat of 
mail and with lowered vizor he climbed the 
stone staircase, marvelling at the festive 
sounds. A thousand lamps shone on the 
guests. His father, Fungh Evandale, was 
celebrating his second marriage, and the 
neighbouring barons, sitting round him, 
pledged each other in friendly healths. From 
the threshold Ralph beheld the newly-wedded 
wife, white as her coronet of pearls ; and in 
the bride he recognized the pale girl whom 
he had long loved in his secret soul. A hell- 
born feeling rose in his heart. Silently he 
closed the door, and disappeared. Mean- 
while the songs had ceased. Leaning thought- 
fully on her elbow, on the nuptial couch, the 
young chatelaine watched her lord. The noble 


thane unbuckled his sword before the great 
hanging mirror, when suddenly the tapestry 
was pushed back by a gauntletted hand. It 
was Ralph this time, with vizor raised. 
Fungh turned, and, recognizing him, joyfully 
stretched out his arms. But the cruel son, 
impelled by some foul demon, started for- 
ward, fell traitorously on his father, and 
plunged his dagger in his throat, up to the 
cross-hilt Fungh, stricken to death, in- 
stinctively put his hand on the wound ; then, 
with a maledictory gesture, he laid his gory 
fingers on the face of the unnatural son who 
gazed unmoved upon his agony. Ralph drew 
himself up, his heart sullied by his crime, 
and his face branded with his father s blood. 
Then, bruising in his mailed hands the two 
wrists of the widowed bride, he dragged 
her, half-naked, dishevelled, her knees shaking 
with terror, into the adjacent oratory, and 
would have constrained the chaplain of the 
old manor to bless, in that very hour, their 
sacrilegious union. Terrified though he 
was, the priest gathered courage before the 
altar, and would only utter a well-deserved 


anathema. Thus was the guilty marriage 
solemnized. And the shadow fell upon their 
race ! They gave life to a posterity of 
demons, an accursed line of wicked men, 
who have rendered themselves illustrious on 
the earth by their crimes and their gloomy 
amours. Now the race is extinct. One girl 
only survives, and she destroyed her property 
and burnt her dwelling before she fled her 
country. Where is she ? Nobody can tell ! 
Nevertheless, she will be recognized in her 
last hour, for, since the terrible night when 
their young ancestress beheld the bloody 
hand on the face of the parricide, that accusing 
hand-print, graven on the flesh of the Evan- 
dales, has perpetuated itself from generation 
to generation. They are conceived with that 
impress ! It is the law of their birth ! And 
whenever death strikes one of them, the 
sinister hand appears upon the brow of the 
unhappy being, a ghostly, shining hand, 
which the everlasting night alone can efface ! 
Pray then for Edith Evandale, the last of 
her race, unknown, forgotten ! " 

This Edith Evandale, it will have been 


understood, is she who now conceals herself 
under the name of Mistress Andrews. As 
the old woman concludes her story, and 
while all are still bending forward in silent 
and breathless attention, the unhappy woman 
herself appears standing among them, the 
moonlight falling on her alone. " Yes," she 
says in a low despairing voice, " pray ! " 


Villiers' rage against the members of the jury Dramatic 
scene at the house of Victor Hugo Villiers leaves 
Paris The Bordeaux theatres Godefrin, director 
of the Theatre Francais An extraordinary reading 
Little Mdlle. Aimee Madame Aime"e Tessandier. 

Y quotations have carried me away, 
and we are far from Bordeaux ! 
To return. When Villiers arrived, 
he was more furious than ever 
with Paris and the Parisians in general, and 
with literary committees and theatrical mana- 
gers in particular. This time it was no 
longer " Perrinet Leclerc," nor the loss of his 
lawsuit, which excited his rage, but the suc- 
cession of injustices of which the " Nouveau 
Monde " and its author had been the victims. 
He had, indeed, received the official notice, 
signed by the superior jury, and announcing 


that his drama had taken the highest and 
most honourable place in passing through the 
twofold ordeal. It had received the praises 
of Victor Hugo, of Emile Augier and Octave 
Feuillet, of Ernest Legouve even ! and that 
was all. No medal of honour, much less the 
ten thousand francs ! He was, it is true, too 
well acquainted with the side-scenes of life at 
this end of the century to feel much surprised 
at seeing the gold turn into dead leaves, but 
he had hoped that those who had instituted the 
competition would, at all events, have made 
some effort to have the play of their choice 
performed on some great Parisian stage. 
Nothing of the kind. A flood of benignant 
commonplace was the only answer to his in- 
quiries and his imperious demands, and the 
gifted author of the "Nouveau Monde" had to 
undergo the humiliation (surely, in another 
life, it shall be reckoned in his favour !) of see- 
ing the second-rate play of one of his fellow- 
competitors, M. Armand d'Artois, performed 
on the Paris boards, while his own slumbered 
in the manuscript boxes of the manager of 
the Porte St. Martin Theatre. 


It would have been too much even for a 
being gifted with more patience than my poor 
Villiers possessed. 

As a first step the poet went and made a 
scandal at the Olympian abode of Victor 
Hugo, in the Avenue de Clichy. In the 
presence of the usual body-guard, Vacquerie, 
Lockroy, Catulle Mendes, and my late vene- 
rable compatriot, L , he dared to accuse 

the honorary president of the superior jury of 
having been the first to break all the promises 
signed with his august name. He mentioned 
the demigod's age to him, and made some allu- 
sion to literary integrity in general. L , 

who usually sat silent in these gatherings, 
never opening his mouth except to cry 
" Sabaoth ! " unable to contain his fury, 
angrily advanced towards the intruder, and 
indignantly shaking the beautiful white curls 
which framed his pallid face, he shot at the 
blasphemer this eloquent apostrophe, which 
Homer or Henri Monnier might have been 
glad to take a note of : " Integrity, sir, is not 
a question of age ! " Slowly, with his un- 
certain glance, Villiers scanned the worthy 


elder from head to foot, then gently answered, 
" No, sir, nor folly either ! " Then, leaving 
the startled coterie, horrified at his unlimited 
audacity, he hurried to the Porte St. Martin, 
snatched his manuscript from the secretary's 
claws, and at dawn next day, laden with the 
five thick copybooks containing his five a6ls, 
and without vulgar care for such a trivial 
thing as luggage, he took the through train to 

" Then at once," he said, as he brought the 
story of the adventures of his play to a close, 
" I bethought me of you, of the provinces, of 
vengeance. I dreamt of murder, of decentra- 
lization ! Don't you see what a splendid 
chance there is here for the manager of 
some provincial theatre, to be first to accept 
and mount and play a piece by the Comte 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, which has been 
crowned by the approbation of a committee 
counting among its members those idols of 
middle-class lovers of literature, Legouve, 
Feuillet, Augier, and Hugo ? But, in the first 
place, is there a theatre in Bordeaux ? " 
" There are three," I replied, "without count- 


ing the strollers' booths." Bordeaux did, in 
fa6l, possess in those days three important 
theatres : the Grand Theatre, which was de- 
voted to operatic performances, the Theatre 
Louit, which had no particular line, and the 
Theatre Frangais, which was entirely given 
up to comedy and drama. The then manager 
of the latter was a Parisian artiste, a good 
actor, and an excellent administrator, pos- 
sessed of great boldness, much insight, and 
most reliable good taste. He has since made 
himself a name at the Cafe de Suede, and in 
the theatrical world, as a most successful 
organizer of provincial and dramatic tours. 
He was then, and presumably is still, called 
Godefrin. We had had some casual relations 
with each other, and as soon as Villiers im- 
parted his new project to me, I bethought me 
of the director of the Theatre Frangais of Bor- 
deaux. I wrote to him, therefore, making 
known our idea and asking for an early inter- 
view. We had not long to wait. The answer 
came, overflowing with enthusiasm for Villiers 
and full of gratitude to myself, and the very 
next evening found us sitting in the managerial 


apartment. Villiers had been to the barber ; 
his well-curled moustache had a conquering 
air, and he marched victoriously through the 
streets of Bordeaux with his manuscript under 
his arm. But, as the sequel will show, this 
pretence of assurance concealed a horrible 
state of nervousness; he was, in reality, as 
agitated as a debutante who hears the call- 
boy's bell for the first time. And yet there 
was nothing inaccessible in the demeanour of 
the impresario ! He was still young, free 
from any professional swagger, and very 
affable. He received Villiers with admiring 
deference. A young woman, tall and slight 
and pale, dressed in dark colours, rose to her 
feet on our entrance, and surveyed Villiers 
with curiously brilliant eyes. "Allow me to 
introduce you to little Mdlle. Aimee, my best 
pensionnaire" said Godefrin ; " she is con- 
sumed with a desire to play a tragic part, and 
I believe she will succeed ; ay, and brilliantly ! 
Perhaps, dear sir," turning to Villiers, " you 
will be able to find her a part in your play ? " 
There was no answer from Villiers. All out 
of curl already, he had retired into a corner, 


whence he watched us with his suspicious, de- 
jected, startled gaze, nervously rolling a ciga- 
rette between his fingers. 

"Well, let us begin to read ! " said I at last, 
to break a silence which was becoming em- 
barrassing. We seated ourselves ; the poet at 
the table, we at random on the seats scattered 
about the room. And the reading began. 

I have witnessed many strange scenes in 
the course of my life, but never, I think, was 
I present at anything so fantastically, irresis- 
tibly funny as that sight of Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam reading the sheets of his drama to 
Godefrin the manager. At the beginning 
things went fairly well. Villiers seated him- 
self, coughed, moistened his lips in the glass 
of water before him, tossed back, with his 
usual gesture, the long fair lock which, in spite 
of its recent curling, would keep falling over 
his eyes, and then, with a searching glance all 
round, he opened the manuscript and began : 

" Act the first tableau the first Swinmore 
the great saloon of Swinmore manor-house, 
near Auckland, in the county of Cumberland. 
At the rear " 


Here he interrupted himself, rose from his 
chair, and, with the obje<5l of explaining the 
fittings of the scene to Godefrin, began to 
jump about the room, knocking over seats, 
dragging armchairs about, unhooking the 
arms on a small trophy which hung upon 
the wall, and accompanying his erratic be- 
haviour with inconsequent sentences and 
incomprehensible words : 

" The balcony of wrought iron-work 
night a moon stars there, in the distance, 
thy silver streak, O sea! gold enrichments 
Ha ! ha ! ha ! they come, the voices ! the 
distant and prophetic voices ! the departing 
voices ! Ahoy ! ahoy ! from the boat here 
is Ruth, the sad lady of the castle here is 
the smiling Mary ! the voices again the 
voices approach ! the voices die away ! ! ! 

Suddenly he perceived the piano, threw 
himself upon the keyboard, and striking some 
melancholy chords, he sang in a plaintive 
voice, "Adieu, prairie! Adieu, berceau! Adieu, 
tombeau! Adieu, pair ie !" then, still accom- 
panying himself, recited in sepulchral accents, 
" Farewell, old house ! in which I have never 


given happiness, nor enjoyed it ! the duty for 
which I forsake thee is the most sacred of all 
duties in my eyes ! God shall be my judge 
yes ! Adieu, tombeau ! " 

Startled and terror-stricken, the correct 
frock-coated manager, pale and with com- 
pressed lips, had taken refuge in a corner, 
whence his wild southern eyes every now and 
then shot imploring glances at me. The 
actress had buried her head in her hands, 
and I could see her pretty shoulders shaking 
in a tempest of convulsive laughter. Mean- 
while, Villiers, with bristling locks and dis- 
trustful eyes, had left the piano, and, standing 
with folded arms before Godefrin, he de- 
manded, "Well, sir, have you understood 
this mysterious symbolism ? Everything, 
everything is in that : the parting from the 
old country, the uprooting of the young tree 
which is to bear the foliage, the fruit, the 
perfume of the corrupt Old World in a 
newer and purer one. That, the exposition 
of the idea of my play, is clearly established, 
is it not ? " In spite of his astonishment, poor 
Godefrin found breath to answer, " Doubtless, 


dear sir, your idea is wonderful, but I must 
humbly admit it has not evolved itself to my 
intelligence from what I have heard. May I 
beg of you to read me your piece quietly, 
without thinking about the scenery, action, or 
symbolism ? " 

Villiers shrugged his shoulders, his whole 
physiognomy expressing ineffable scorn and 
disdain. He turned to me : " Are you com- 
ing ? " he said ; then taking up his hat and 
cane, and his manuscript " Madam ! sir ! I 
wish you good morning ! " and he moved 
towards the door. 

We surrounded him. I dragged him back, 
and made him sit down and listen to me. 
"Are you stark mad ? " I cried, sternly; " and 
do you suppose the manager of a theatre is a 
prophet, who can penetrate the mysteries of a 
poet's brain, and discover what his ideas are 
before he condescends to put them into good, 
plain, intelligible prose ? Deuce take it ! It 
is not by pushing about chairs, upsetting 
furniture, and bawling to the piano, that you 
will manage to make Godefrin understand 
your play. Take my advice ; give me your 


manuscript " (and I took it out of his hand) ; 
" go and sit down in that farthest corner, and 
let me give a complete, ordinary, common- 
place reading of your piece." 

As I spoke his face darkened ; he retired 
into a recess, and rolling his eternal cigarette, 
his eyes on the ground, he answered in that 
hollow voice which he always used when he 
desired to personify Doctor Triboulat Bon- 
homet, " Very good ! a family reading ! So 
be it ! " " Bravo ! " cried Godefrin, " now we 
shall be able to understand what we are about, 
and admire in proportion." But I must draw 
my story to a close. For two hours I read 
without stopping, except to rest for a few 
minutes between the a6ls. If I raised my 
eyes, I saw Godefrin listening with an air of 
authority, and Villiers lost in distant dreams, 
while little Mdlle. Aimee's keen, ardent, con- 
centrated gaze was rivetted on myself. I felt 
and understood that she drank in every word 
I pronounced, and that every character, as it 
shaped itself before her mental vision, became 
instinct with life, movement, and suffering ; 
and when I reached the foot of the last page, 


it was her that my eyes instinctively sought. 
She had risen, quivering with excitement, and 
hastening to Villiers, she seized both his hands, 
exclaiming, " Oh, sir, dear sir, I beg you to 
let me play the part of Mistress Andrews ! " 
" It is an admirable play," said the impresario, 
on his side, "and I am ready to make any 
sacrifice in order to mount such a fine piece 
of work in a way worthy of its own and its 
author's merits." 

Alas, poor Godefrin ! He little knew the 
poetic temperament, more capricious than 
April sunshine, more changeable than the 
sea. The " Nouveau Monde" was never to be 
played at Bordeaux. A few months after the 
scene I have just described, Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam was back in Paris, and, seduced by the 
fair promises of Chabrillat, at that time re- 
organizing the Ambigu, he withdrew his piece 
from the director of the Bordeaux theatre, 
to confide it to this suddenly-arisen literary 
Barnum. It is greatly to be regretted that 
Bordeaux should not have had the first per- 
formance of this fine play. I am convinced 
that Villiers' work would there have achieved 


the enthusiastic success which it merits, and 
everyone will agree with me that no Parisian 
stage could have furnished an artist more 
capable of interpreting the gloomy role of the 
heroine than little Mdlle. Aimee, M. Godefrin's 
pensionnaire ; for Madame Aimee Tessandier, 
of the Comedie Fran^aise, is now, and 
justly, considered one of our finest and most 
gifted tragic actresses, and Godefrin was a 
true prophet when he predicted that her 
success would be great. 

Little Mdlle. Aimee of those bygone days ! 
If chance should bring these lines before your 
eyes, you may perhaps forget for a moment 
your recent glories in the house of Moliere, 
and give a thought to the distant past ! That 
part of Mistress Andrews, madame, was a very 
beautiful creation, and one which might well . 
inspire such an artistic individuality as yours. 
It might have marked an important stage in 
your triumphal march ; it might, even now, 
did you choose to take it back and play it to 
the life, become the fairest pearl in your 
diadem as a tragic actress ! 


Restful days The real Villiers Villiers and the fair 
sex Talks about bygone days Charles Baude- 
laire His true nature His strange home-life 
Jeanne Duval Edgar Poe Richard Wagner 
"Axel" The Cabala and the occult sciences 
Villiers' religious sentiments Quotations " L'Eve 

HOSE days spent with my friend 
far from the cares and noise of city 
life, have remained with me as one 
of my pleasantest memories. For 
us they were days of delicious and beneficial 
repose. In that quiet sunny southern spot 
where we spent some weeks together, the 
mantle of bitter scorn and scepticism in which 
he wrapped himself on the boulevards seemed 
to drop from his shoulders. I penetrated far 
into his inner nature, and he allowed me to 


perceive the ideal and beautiful personality 
which he so jealously concealed in the depths 
of his soul. Thus I came to know at last a 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam but little resembling 
the one who used to delight the nightly 
frequenters of the brasseries at Montmartre 
by his wit, his strange imaginings, and his 
disconnected manner of life. This was the real 
man, the dreamer, the philosopher, the poet, 
the true lover, incarnated in the superhuman 
character of Axel, and concealed beneath the 
cloak of irony in which all his work is en- 

On those cloudless balmy nights at Bor- 
deaux, as we wandered in close converse along 
the banks of the great river, under the graceful 
arches of the pine-trees, through which the 
pale and mysterious moonbeams slanted, 
while above us rose the hill-slopes covered 
with the heavy purple and golden bunches of 
the ripening grapes, he would go back over 
his past life, and would recount to me and to 
himself his intellectual and sentimental his- 
tory. Did woman play a great part in the 
poet's life ? I think so, though he had few 



adventures and fewer passionate attachments. 
But, like that much misunderstood personage, 
Don Juan, Villiers was continually seeking 
that divine emotion which he never felt but 
once, and that in his early youth, during the 
short existence of that first and purest love of 
which the green Breton fields were the cradle, 
the setting, and the grave. If he chanced to 
catch sight of one of those celestial faces 
which make one believe that angels may 
come down to earth, he would fall in love 
with his own ideal. But as soon as he ap- 
proached a woman more closely, his pitiless 
spirit of analysis laid bare all the moral ugli- 
nesses and littlenesses veiled by her physical 
beauty. The angel disappeared, and brutal 
reality clipped the wings of his dream. After 
a disappointment of this sort, he would throw 
himself with a sort of frenzy into the wildest 
orgies of midnight debauchery. At such times 
his sarcasms about love and women burnt like 
a redhot iron, but beneath all his imprecations 
one felt that there lay the despair of a man 
who has held for one short moment the key of 
Eden, and from whom it has been snatched 


before he could open the sacred portal. 
Happily his art, his love for it, and his 
consciousness of his own genius, consoled 
him for his many mortifications. 

He loved, in these intimate and often 
retrospective conversations, to go back over 
the first happy years of his residence in Paris, 
to his friendly relations with my father, and 
above all to Charles Baudelaire, whose 
memory haunted him like a ghost. They 
had made acquaintance at the office of the 
" Revue Fantaisiste," whither, from time to 
time, the author of the " Fleurs du Mai " 
would bring some of his original and ex- 
quisitely-polished " Petits Poemes en Prose." 
Baudelaire and Villiers had too much in 
common not to be quickly drawn together. 
From the date of their first meeting they 
were frequently in each other's company, and 
Villiers was one of the few friends who were 
present at the poet's terrible death. For my 
own part, while greatly admiring Baudelaire 
as a poetical craftsman, I did not like his 
character as an individual. From all I had 
heard (for I never knew him personally), he 


seemed to me to be wanting in sincerity, and 
to be eternally posing, not only before the 
public, but before the little circle over which 
he habitually presided. 

Villiers would leap with rage if I expressed 
this in his presence. He declared that I 
swam in a sea of stupid prejudice ; that what 
I took for affectation in Baudelaire was really 
the essence of his extraordinary nature ; that 
he could not be nor behave otherwise. And 
he would try to explain this strange, terribly 
complicated character to me, diabolical as it 
was in some ways, exquisitely good in others. 
Would that my impotent pen could reproduce 
the fire, the eagerness, and the brilliancy of 
Villiers' speeches in defence of his departed 
friend! Baudelaire had condescended to ex- 
plain and analyze himself, to lay bare his 
heart, as he expressed it, before this privi- 
ledged associate. " In his youth," said Vil- 
liers, "he halted between two ambitions. To 
be the greatest actor in the world, or else to 
be the Pope." Although he had shouldered 
a musket and worn the workman's blouse in 
1848, he gave himself out as a Catholic and a 


supporter of constituted authority. " A Catho- 
lic possessed by a devil," Villiers would add, 
" and a supporter of authority who admitted 
none but his own, and that of his vices, which 
he cherished as works of art, and of which he 
was inordinately proud." Nothing could have 
been more strikingly curious than the descrip- 
tion given by the author of "Axel" of the 
poet's home-life. He lived near Neuilly, in 
an apartment with large high rooms, full of 
oddly-shaped furniture, Chinese monsters, 
Indian idols, fantastic and generally frightful 
carvings of animals, the walls of which were 
hung with dark and revolting pictures of the 
Spanish School, mutilations, executions, and 
torture scenes, painted by the horror-loving 
Ribeira and his pupils. In the midst of this 
nightmare scene Baudelaire moved slowly 
about, cold, silent, and pale, himself half- 
frightened, like one who walks through a 
hideous dream. And as mistress of this 
strange dwelling, there was a creature stranger 
still a coloured girl, almost a negress, named 
Jeanne Duval, always shivering, and wrapped 
in gaudy silks, past her youth, thin, cringing, 


and without any charm but that of her glowing 
eyes. Violent, bad-tempered, untruthful, un- 
faithful, greedy, intemperate, and depraved, 
she died a drunkard's death in the Maison 
Dubois, idolized and petted to her last gasp 
by Baudelaire, who loved her deeply, I sup- 
pose for the sake of her many perversities. 

It was to Charles Baudelaire that Villiers 
owed one of his greatest artistic enjoyments, 
his acquaintance with the works of Edgar Poe. 
He was a very bad English scholar, and 
without his friend's wonderful translations, 
and his enthusiastic talk on the subject of the 
great American story-teller, he would never, 
probably, have made acquaintance with the 
"Strange Tales," nor with that wonderful 
poem, " The Raven," which he used to recite 
in such a striking manner. And it was the 
will of fate that he should owe yet more to 
Baudelaire. It was in his house that he saw 
for the first time the only human genius before 
whom he ever completely and unreservedly 
bowed down, Richard Wagner. This meeting, 
the most important event, according to Villiers, 
in his intellectual life, took place in the month of 


May, 1 86 1 . The wizard of music had called to 
thank Baudelaire for a fine, and, for those days, 
very courageous study of himself and his work, 
published in the " Revue Europeenne," and 
entitled " Richard Wagner and Tannhauser." 
This was the beginning of one of those beau- 
tiful and noble artistic friendships of which, 
alas ! so few examples exist, and the bond of 
which was only to be severed by death. In a 
future chapter of these recollections, I shall 
speak more fully, as is fitting, of the intimacy 
between these two highly-gifted beings, so well 
formed for mutual understanding, the creator 
of Elsa and the creator of Axel. 

Already, at the time of his sojourn in the 
south of France, Villiers was at work on that 
great philosophical drama of " Axel," which 
only appeared after he was dead. 

One of the most wonderful scenes in the 
work (Part II., " Le Monde Tragique," scene 
8), was entirely written at Bordeaux. 

For the purposes of this play Villiers had 
profoundly studied the Cabala and the occult 
sciences, both past and present. Yet his 
mind was too powerful and too analytical to 


be profoundly smitten by such theories. He 
merely saw in them a phase of the philoso- 
phical evolution of centuries, and he also found 
in them dramatic elements of the highest 
order. But I venture to assert, from what 
I have known of him, that it would be a mistake 
to reckon the author of the " Nouveau Monde " 
among contemporary cabalists. 

His ideal soared further and higher far 
than the magic art cultivated so assiduously, 
and not altogether unremuneratively, by that 
long-haired young sar, Josephin Peladan. 
Though the occult sciences may overwhelm 
and infatuate the intelligence of Peladan at the 
close of this century, and Rohan at the dawn 
of the Revolution, to such vigorous geniuses 
as Goethe in Germany and Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam in France they are but a step to be 
boldly taken in the approach towards divine 

And I should like to say here, to the honour 
of the great writer whose work and character 
have been so much misunderstood, that Villiers 
de Flsle Adam was all his life a convinced and 
fervent Roman Catholic. The study of the 


philosophy of all times and every country, the 
study of the human mind, and the study of 
nature, all only strengthened his faith. He 
firmly believed that God was good, and that 
the Devil was wicked, in Heaven, in Purgatory, 
in Hell. Through all those hours of physical 
agony and moral suffering which he endured 
before his soul escaped to Paradise, he found 
the source of all his hope and all his consola- 
tion in prayer. His life, indeed, like the lives 
of most great artists, was full of faults and 
failures, but whenever he had a chance of 
fighting the good fight in the cause of reli- 
gion and of our divine ideal, he did it with a 
fervour and an enthusiasm which proved the 
sincerity of his convictions. And doubtless 
God will count that to him for righteous- 

"One of the most deeply-rooted feelings in 
Villiers' soul," wrote M. G. Guiches, very 
truly, the day after the poet's death (" Figaro," 
August 1 8, 1889), "was the strong, honest, 
tender, religious sentiment which would make 
his eyes fill with tears whenever the divine 
mysteries were spoken of in his presence. 


Neither the promiscuous cafe life, throughout 
which he always preserved his haughty inde- 
pendence of heart and mind, nor his copious 
and inventive flow of banter, ever touched 
with the faintest stain the royal ermine of his 
faith. On those loose sheets on which, like 
Baudelaire, he was in the habit of noting 
down his thoughts, side by side with prosaic 
memoranda of daily life, and naive resolutions, 
such as 'not to smoke so much,' phrases like 
the following occur : ' It is a sin to mourn for 
a dead child. It has entered into its glory.' 
Among these fragments, too, are touching 
litanies to the Virgin : ' Mother of the good 
God ! O thou, my Mother ! thou who 
intercedest, sure that thou shalt be heard ! 
Thou who standest on Calvary ! Thou who 
canst pardon ! Heel that crushest the ser- 
pent ! Whiteness of the eternal dawn ! Glory 
of human tears ! Light of the eastern star ! 
Thou soul of chastity ! Thou resignation of 
the poor ! ' etc., etc., etc. 

" To an author who told him the atro- 
ciously cynical title of his lately-published 
book, he answered boldly : ' Such things 


should never be written. Those are words 
that will come back to you on your death- 

As I am in a vein of quotation, I will cite 
one more charming anecdote on the same 
subject, related in the " Revue Blanc " by M. 
Henri Laujol, one of Villiers' earliest comrades. 

" I remember," he says, " receiving a visit 
from Villiers one day, while I was reading 
Hceckel's ' History of the Creation.' I can see 
him now, turning over the leaves, looking at 
the woodcuts, and weighing the book in his 
hand, with much pantomimic alarm. He 
asked how much that grand book had cost, 
and I told him the price, somewhere about 
ten francs. ' The catechism costs only two 
sous ! ' was his reply. It was a regular coun- 
try parson's remark. But Villiers was so 
delighted at having made it that he spent his 
whole afternoon repeating it to me, droning it 
out in every sort of key, now falsetto, now bass, 
and then again in a Tyrolese jodel ; interrupt- 
ing himself, now and then, to laugh at the top 
of his voice. I could get nothing else out of 
him the whole of that day." 


But I must turn from our bygone talks to 
register here an incident of his life on the 
boulevards, which he related to me one even- 
ing, and which was to give birth to that 
famous novel, " L'Eve Future," which ap- 
peared long afterwards at Brunhoff's, with 
this motto attached to it : " Transitoriis qucere 


A metamorphosis An ambitious pastry-cook Appearance 
of the newspaper, "La Croix et PEpee" Its political, 

artistic, and literary programme Lord E W 

His strange suicide The wax figure A nocturnal 
conversation The American engineer and his 
master, Edison First conception of "L'Eve Future" 
Villiers de ITsle Adam and Thomas Alva Edison. 

OT long before the famous Lockroy 
lawsuit, Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, for 
the first time in his life, had found 
himself in a regularly established 
position. He had given the frequenters of 
the boulevards and of the newspaper offices 
the unwonted spe6lacle of a Villiers in brand- 
new clothes and a brilliantly smart silk hat 
a Villiers with a grave face and a well-filled 
pocket-book, whose fingers rattled keys and 
five-franc pieces together in his pockets a 


Villiers, in fine, who breakfasted at the Cafe 
Riche, and had his table every night at 
Brebant's (that restaurant so dear to literary 
men), in the celebrated first-floor room so 
graphically described in the journals of the 
De Goncourt. The reason of this ephemeral 
change in the poet's life is worthy of a place 
in the "Arabian Nights." A retired con- 
fectioner, devoured by political and literary 
ambition, and convinced, doubtless, that his 
success in making fancy biscuits gave him a 
right to put his fingers into the great political 
pie, desired to found a newspaper to be the 
organ of his opinions. This, in itself, is a very 
ordinary fact, not particularly worthy of note. 
Many an ambitious vulgarian is not content 
without a newspaper slavishly devoted to his 
interests. But this pastry-cook, who shall be 
nameless, became absolutely heroic, and un- 
doubtedly worthy to be mentioned to pos- 
terity when, out of all the starving writers 
who trod the cruel and horrible Paris pave- 
ments, he chose that unmerciful scoffer, Villiers 
de 1'Isle Adam, as his representative andatier 


A play or a story might be written about 
the ups and downs of the astounding news- 
paper which was the outcome of this strange 
union. I have only time to throw some hasty 
touches on the canvas. 

Villiers was chief editor, reporter, critic, and 
article-writer at one and the same time. The 
confectioner was director, manager, and cashier. 
He gave the poet five hundred francs a month, 
and left him absolutely free to express his own 
political, artistic, and literary opinions, exacting 
two things only : firstly, that " his newspaper " 
should mention him, individually, every day ; 
and secondly, that " his newspaper " should 
make a stir in the capital. His desire was 
more than gratified ! 

" La Croix et 1'Epee," the Cross and Sword 
(high-sounding title !), claimed, in matters of 
religion, the right of every soldier to swear 
round oaths and go to mass ; politically, it 
supported the claim of the Naundorffs to the 
throne of France ; artistically, it put the sym- 
bolist painters above Raphael ; poetically, it 
proclaimed Stephane Mallarme the prince of 
rhyme, and defended the School of the Incom- 


prehensibles ; and musically, it was belligerently 
and exclusively Wagnerian. At the end of 
six months the newspaper disappeared, the 
confectioner went back to his province, and 
Villiers found himself back on the boulevards, 
poorer than ever in pocket, but rich still in 
splendid hopes, and answering the hypo- 
critical condolences of his fellow-journalists 
with his usual phrase, " Yes, yes ! Many 
thanks ! But all is not lost! Next winter, we 
shall see ! " 

It was during this period of relative pros- 
perity that he caught a glimpse of the in- 
dividual who gave him the first idea for his 
novel, " L'Eve Future." 

One evening he saw coming into Brebant's, 
arm-in-arm with one of the attaches of the 
British Embassy, a young Englishman whose 
singular face aroused his imagination. 

" He was both handsome and sad-looking," 
Villiers used to tell me, in his enthusiastic 
way, "and I saw at once in the expression of 
his eyes that grave and scornful look of 
melancholy which always betokens a hidden 


This young man's name (I only give the 

initials) was Lord E W . His tragic 

end attracted attention in Paris for some time. 
He destroyed himself, very deliberately, some 
days after Villiers met him. Stretched beside 
him, in a magnificent dress, bespattered with 
his blood, was found an admirably-made lay 
figure, representing a young woman, whose 
waxen face, modelled by a great artist, was 
the portrait of a young lady well known in 
London for her brilliant beauty, and who had 
been engaged to be married to the eccentric 
young nobleman. 

Was this suicide merely the result of one 
of those strange hereditary manias which 
alffli6t some families of the English aristo- 
cracy ? Or was the mysterious catastrophe 
of some dramatic and passionate love affair 
to be read in the presence of the wonderful 
doll on the young man's deathbed ? The 
young attache inclined to this latter opinion. 

According to his view, Lord E W 

had been the victim of an extraordinary 
fatality. He adored the physical loveliness 
of the young girl ; he was perpetually haunted 



by her magnificent beauty ; but he held her 
mind and soul, and everything in her that 
was not material, in the deepest abhorrence. 
Hence arose the slowly-developed madness 
which ended in his death. 

These things were related one night at the 
restaurant, before Villiers and a small circle 
of habituts. An American engineer an elec- 
trician, as they call them over there rose from 
his seat, and quietly said, " I am sorry your 
friend did not apply to me ; I might have 
cured him." "You! how?" "How! Great 
Scott ! I would have given his doll life, soul, 
movement, love ! " The assembled company, 
being sceptical as to miracles, burst out laugh- 
ing, all but Villiers, who seemed to be absorbed 
in rolling his cigarette. " You may laugh, 
stranger," said the American gravely, as he 
picked up his hat and stick, " but the time 
will come when my great master, Edison, will 
teach you that electricity is an almighty 
power," and with that he went out. 

These facts and this nocturnal conversa- 
tion gave birth to " L'Eve Future," one of the 
most original works of this end of the century. 


Those who have perused this masterpiece of 
eloquent raillery, by the poet who, to use M. 
Henri Laujol's happy expression, "had vowed 
a monkish hatred against modern science, that 
handmaid of utilitarianism," will doubtless 
recollect that the general notion and argu- 
ment of the story follow almost identically 
the facts I have just related. But Villiers 
was not one of those half-artists who are 
satisfied with their first idea, and work it out 
the moment chance has presented it to their 
brain. It was only after revolving it in his 
mind, pondering and brooding over it, that 
he began to write his novel, the first wonder- 
ful pages of which, with their description of 
Menloe Park and its terrifying proprietor, 
Thomas Alva Edison, he read to me in 1879. 
When the great inventor himself came to 
Paris in 1889 to see our exhibition, somebody 
sent him De 1'Isle Adam's book. He read it 
through without putting it down, and said to 
one of his intimates, " That man is greater 
than I. I can only in vent. He creates!" He 
desired to make the author's acquaintance, but, 
alas ! poor Villiers, already stricken by the fell 


disease of which he died, could not respond 
to Edison's invitation. This is deeply to be 
regretted. Can anything more curious and 
more interesting be imagined than a conver- 
sation between the progenitor of Dr. Triboulat 
Bonhomet and the father of the phonograph ? 
Soon after he had related the curious origin 
of his contemplated work to me, my eccentric 
friend suddenly disappeared from my sight. 


Villiers' absent-mindedness His terrible carelessness 
His departure from Bordeaux Godefrin's despair 
A year later Bohemian poverty A justification 
Want of money Villiers' difficulties His pride 
His artistic conscientiousness Drumont's book 
Villiers and the young Jew A good answer Villiers' 
manner of life His midnight wanderings His dis- 
like of daylight Villiers and Anatole France. 

MOST disconcerting thing about 
Villiers, which used to exasperate 
his best friends till his dying day, 
was his perpetual absent-minded- 
ness, which led him to forget the most impor- 
tant appointments, to break off, for long 
months on end, his most intimate daily 
relations, and only occasionally to fulfil the 
engagements he might make with editors of 
reviews or publishers. The uncertainty of 
his movements kept one continually on the 


alert ; you could never tell when he would 
come or when he would go. I have described 
his sudden apparition in my house at Bor- 
deaux. His departure was just as unexpected. 
We had talked the whole night long ; at early 
dawn I went to get a little rest, and when I 
rose it was already late. I inquired after 
Villiers ; he had gone out, and hours passed 
without his return. In vain I sought him. 
Without beat of drum he had disappeared, 
melted away like a shadow. 

A few days after I met Godefrin with a 
long face. He had just received a letter 
from the inconstant writer, dated from Paris, 
demanding the immediate return of the manu- 
script of the " Nouveau Monde." His con- 
versation was one flood of recriminations. 
For my own part, inured long since as I was 
to the poet's offhand ways, I was only half- 
surprised, and I did my best to console the 
unhappy director, whom I have not had the 
good fortune to meet since that interview. 

Towards me Villiers preserved an un- 
broken silence. Indeed, I might have thought 
him dead, and myself forgotten, if the post had 


not brought me packets containing articles, 
tales, or fanciful conceits of his, cut out of 
newspapers and magazines, and which, ad- 
dressed as they were by his own hand, proved 
that he was not "the late De 1'Isle Adam," 
and that I still lived in his memory. 

It was difficult, after all was said and done, 
to bear him a grudge because of his exaspera- 
ting carelessness, for when you next met him, 
after a disappearance of five or six months, he 
would address you as if he had only left you 
the night before. If you reproached him, he 
would gaze at you with an innocent and 
puzzled air, seemingly quite unconscious of his 
sin ; and then he had such a particular way of 
exclaiming, "What! I did that! oh, come, come! 
impossible ! you must be chaffing me ! " that 
nobody could keep their countenance nor their 
bad temper long. Personally I was not to see 
him for two years. Alas ! when we met again 
in Paris in 1879, 1 saw that poverty was slowly 
accomplishing its destructive work. Never 
had the Bohemian life which he so coura- 
geously accepted, seemed more utterly dreary. 
He needed all his power of hopefulness to 


endure it. But though his heart was as stout, 
his imagination as brilliant, his mind as active 
as ever, the bodily frame was beginning to tire 
and its machinery to break down, thanks to 
bad food, want of care, and the late hours 
and noxious tobacco-laden air of tavern life. 
Living as I did in Paris the whole of that year, 
I contrived to withdraw him a little from the 
infernal round which was destroying his life. 
But I never deceived myself. I felt it was 
only a respite, and that he would always have 
a longing for that eccentric and feverish exis- 
tence which devoured him body and soul and 
hastened his end. 

This year of grace 1879 was the last we 
spent together, and it was the time of our 
closest intimacy. Before reviving some memo- 
ries of it, I desire to defend Villiers against an 
unjust accusation, which is frequently brought 
against him. He has been accused, both in life 
and after death, of being a dissipated tavern- 
bird, a lover of low company. It has been 
asserted that his want of success arose princi- 
pally from his own bad conduct, his want of 
moral sense, his indolence, and the doubtful 


company he frequented. To those who only 
knew him casually these accusations bear an 
appearance of truth fatal to the poet's good 
name. But we who were acquainted with 
his inner life, and have watched him through 
the hard trials of his laborious existence, know 
how little he deserved the reproaches of these 
wiseacres. We knew the nobility of his nature, 
the innate delicacy of his tastes, his passion 
for work, his scorn of material enjoyments. 
And we know how, little by little, this gifted 
being was driven by evil fortune to live in an 
atmosphere unworthy of him, and how, too, 
little by little, and after many a revolt, he 
grew accustomed to it. 

May I be permitted, then, within the space 
of a few lines, to attempt the justification of 
the slipshod and Bohemian manner of life of 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. It will give me an 
opportunity of showing the original and com- 
plex character of the artist in a new light. 

The faithful autobiography of a writer 
living in Paris during the last twenty years, 
without any other means of support than his 
own talents, would be a gloomier and a sadder 


book than Dante's " Inferno." But it would 
likewise be a healthy and instructive one, a 
sort of warning beacon which should save 
many a young and promising life from ruin, 
shame, and death. Though there are some 
indomitable natures which rise higher and 
gain in strength through the struggle with 
misfortune, there are many more, and highly 
gifted ones too, which are lowered and 
crushed down by despicable cares, grinding 
poverty, and anxiety concerning the earning 
of daily bread. True as it may be that 
energy, moral strength, and artistic conviction 
form a solid suit of armour, yet I hold that the 
thinnest silver cuirass is more useful for win- 
ning the final victory. And that which hin- 
dered Villiers from climbing to the highest 
eminence was above all things his want of 

This condition of penury must have been 
all the more prejudicial and painful to him, 
because the ddbut of his career was so suc- 
cessful as to be almost an apotheosis. 

Excessively proud, and with a lively sen- 
timent for the illustrious name he bore, he 


would never, when poverty came upon him, 
undertake any of those lucrative, if ignoble 
jobs, which in these days are always to be 
had about the literary world. He carried 
his respect for his calling as far as his respect 
for his ancestry, and no matter how pressing 
his need was, he would never send a hastily- 
finished page, nor even sentence, to the 
printer. He read and re-read everything, 
first low, then loud, and finally, when the 
whole was weeded and corrected, he would 
declaim it in that clear sonorous voice which 
he always used when reciting his own 
writings. According to him, the worst crime 
a writer can commit is to sell himself. And 
in this connection I will record an authen- 
ticated anecdote which ends with a remark 
by the author of " L'Eve Future " which 
almost touches the sublime. 

Immediately after the appearance of " La 
France Juive," the Jewish community in 
Paris looked about for a writer equal to the 
task of returning the murderous knockdown 
blows of the terrible Drumont. Somebody 
suggested Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. A noble 


name, a brilliant talent, and in straits of 
poverty probably to be had very cheap ! A 
nice little glossy well-combed Jew, who then 
looked, perhaps still looks, after the censor- 
ship in the back office of a fashionable pub- 
lisher, was sent to call upon him. Villiers, 
struggling with the direst poverty, often 
without half a franc in his pocket, was living 
in a big, bare, dark, cold room, somewhere 
on the heights of Montmartre, where he 
still possessed an old easy-chair, a ricketty 
table, and a poor asthmatic piano, which the 
bailiffs had despised. Here the young Jew 
found the last descendant of the Grand Mas- 
ter of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. 
Unctuously servile, and with an exaggerated 
show of respe6l, the messenger of the syna- 
gogue explained its desire, concluding by 
saying that there could be no bargaining 
with a writer of such distinction, and that the 
Comte Villiers de 1'Isle Adam had only to 
name his own price. Then he waited in 
silence for the answer of Villiers, who had 
listened without interrupting, rolling a ciga- 
rette in his white fingers, his absent glance half 


hidden by the thick lock that fell over his 
brow. When his interlocutor had ceased 
speaking, he raised his head, and fixing on 
him his clear blue eyes, filled now with 
sudden flame, he answered in a ringing 
voice, " My price, sir ? It has not altered 
since the days of our Saviour ! Thirty pieces 
of silver ! " Then, rising and wrapping 
around him his tattered old dressing-gown, 
he pointed to the door with a gesture that 
the illustrious marshal, his ancestor, might 
have envied, and added, " Begone, sir!" 

But I have wandered from my subject. 
I was saying that poverty had been a hard 
stepmother to Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, forcing 
him from his youth up to shape his life to 
the Bohemian habits of a vagabond Parisian 
life, and to such habits he gradually became 
accustomed. Serious and well-established 
people, as well as self-important and overfed 
middle-class folk, used to reproach him bit- 
terly with the carelessness of his existence, 
with his slipshod behaviour, above all, with 
his assiduous frequentation of those nocturnal 
places of entertainment, which, under the 


name of wine-shops, brasseries, and artists' 
taverns, swarm between the Faubourg Mont- 
martre and the Boulevard de Clichy. Yet 
how many good excuses there were for this 
so-called life of idleness and debauchery ! 

If Villiers, without being rich, had pos- 
sessed a few pounds a year, if he could have 
made for himself, somewhere in the formidable 
city, ever so small a corner where he might 
have dreamed his brilliant beautiful dreams, 
and written, and thought, without anxiety 
concerning his daily pittance, I, who was 
his friend, will affirm that the witty and 
eloquent frequenters of the " Chat Noir " 
and the " Rat Mort " would have known him 
less, and, what is more to the purpose, less 
intimately. But driven by dire necessity to 
pitch his tent in some empty lodging or 
dreary hotel room, he had such a horror, 
aristocratic being, dainty poet, charming 
artist as he was, of the hideous dwellings 
into which his evil fate had penned him, 
that he fled from them, preferring to make 
all Paris his home, and to say, in the words 
of Bruant's working man, " T'es dans la rue, 


va, t'es chez toi ! " " You're in the gutter ? 
then you are at home ! " 

It was walking the pavements, on the 
terraces of cafes, and with his elbow on the 
stained tavern tables, that he imagined, dis- 
cussed, and partly wrote, some of his finest 
works. Every imaginative being, moreover, 
wants some nervous excitement to quicken 
his brain process, and Villiers more especially 
was the victim of this need. He could not 
evolve his ideas and present them clearly 
to his own mind without discussion, and 
therefore without somebody to discuss them 
with. If prosperity had been granted to him, 
he might have found all this in artistic circles, 
at his own fireside, in friendly gatherings, 
perhaps in the drawing-room of some woman 
of fashion. Poor as he was, and driven into 
Bohemian life, he had to fall back on his 
wild nocturnal habits, and on the hubbub 
of the tavern, where ideas and words meet 
and clash noisily through clouds of tobacco 
smoke, amidst the rattle of glasses and the 
noisy laughter of loose women. 

I owe it, however, to truth to say that 


Villiers' love of late hours was not altogether 
the result of circumstances. He was essen- 
tially a night-bird. He hated the daylight, 
and always called the sun a hideous planet, 
which, he declared, lighted nature up badly, 
and spoiled her beauty. Even in his best 
days, he never became quite himself until 
his kindly little friends the stars blinked 
down at him out of the sky. 

The brilliant critic of the " Temps," M. 
Anatole France, tells us, in a kindly sketch 
dedicated to the memory of De 1'Isle Adam, 
that, being in want of exact information con- 
cerning the poet's ancestors for some literary 
work on which he was engaged, he went 
one day to look him up at his lodgings at 
Montmartre. He was received smilingly, 
but when he announced the object of his 
visit, the master of the house looked per- 
plexed, doubtful, and troubled. He began 
to stammer, and at last, almost in tears, he 
exclaimed : " How can you expect me to 
talk to you about my ancestors, the illustrious 
grand master and the famous marshal, in 
bright sunshine like this, at ten o'clock in 



the morning ? " He really was in utter dis- 
may, and the witty critic had to exert himself 
to the utmost to restore him to his equa- 
nimity and obtain the necessary information 
from him. 



1879 The Rue des Martyrs and the Rue Rochechouart 
The poet's room His extraordinary indifference 
Le"on Dierx " La De'voue'e " Strange habits 
Villiers in the street The Boulevard Montmartre 
Nocturnal declamations Villiers as a composer 
Two operas, "Esmeralda" and " Prometheus "- 
Melomania Villiers as a musical performer A 
strange couple. 

N 1879 Villiers inhabited a room 
in a furnished hotel in the Rue 
des Martyrs, nearly at the corner 
of the Rue Clauzel. Chance had 
made us neighbours, for I was living at the 
corner of the Rue Rochechouart and the Rue 
de Maubeuge, at the very top of an enormous 
house let out in flats, and from my balcony I 
could see all over Paris. As to the poet's 
room, it was just as commonplace as might 
have been expected in a tenth-rate furnished 
lodging-house. A mahogany bed, chair, and 


chest of drawers, an imitation Wilton carpet, 
and the inevitable wardrobe with a looking- 
glass in it. Should this last happen to gape 
open, one perceived on every shelf, not linen, 
nor clothes of any description, but piles of 
manuscript, books, newspapers, and magazines. 
The extreme indifference of the great 
writer to the material comforts of life greatly 
assisted him in bearing the pangs of poverty. 
I never knew him take thought for the 
morrow, in the literal sense of the term, 
though he thought and talked a great deal 
about the future in general. But he never 
troubled his head as to whether he had a 
shirt to his back ; and had it not been for the 
care of some devoted friends, I really believe 
he would have ended by going out-of-doors 
half-dressed, or by spending several months 
in bed for want of clothes. Luckily, a sort 
of earthly providence seemed to watch over 
him, and supply his most pressing needs. 
One of his best loved and most faithful friends, 
Leon Dierx, lived in the same house, and 
looked after him without seeming to do so, 
for Villiers was as touchy as he was careless. 


But, above all others, there was a worthy 
woman, a retired midwife, who had attached 
herself to the poet with a canine devotion 
which used to bring the tears to my eyes. The 
jests, the snubbing, even the furies of her 
idol, could not dishearten her. She treated 
him with a delicate tenderness which the 
most passionately devoted mistress might have 
envied. The great writer, with the Bohemian 
indifference of the man who owns nothing, 
used, when he came in at dawn, worn out 
with holding forth and discussing, to leave 
his door unlocked, and the key in it. This 
excellent soul would seize her opportunity, 
come in on tiptoe, take his poor, stained, 
shabby garments, mend them as best she 
could, and then restore them to their place. 
Often she would bring a clean shirt, and lay 
it on the foot of the bed. When Villiers took 
it into his head to get up and go out, about 
the time the gas was being lighted in the 
streets, he would put on the first thing that 
came under his hand, without ever noticing 
the changes in and additions to his wardrobe 
made by this admirable woman, whom we 


had nicknamed " La Devouee," " the devoted 
one." When I became the poet's neighbour, 
I often made use of her. She would put 
coats and trousers of mine beside him while 
he slept ; and I often had a struggle to keep 
my countenance when I saw my friend dressed 
up in my cast-off clothes, which used to give 
him a most peculiar appearance, for while I 
was long and thin, he was short and broad. 
But he went on unmoved, and never suspected 

The waiter of the hotel had also been 
coached. He used to enter Villiers' room, 
every day towards noon, carrying a large 
bowl of soup, into which a penny roll had 
been cut up. Should the poet be asleep, he 
took care not to rouse him. If Villiers was 
awake, he would call out threateningly, 
" What's that ? " " Breakfast, sir ! " said the 
waiter, and hastily putting the bowl down, 
he departed. Mechanically Villiers would 
swallow bread and soup, and think no more 
of the almost daily recurring incident. He 
never had any other meal before his even- 
ing one. 


I got into the habit of going to see him 
between three and four o'clock in the after- 
noons. I generally found him sitting up in 
bed, supported by several pillows, hard at work, 
and only stopping his writing to roll a ciga- 
rette, which, as often as not, he did not light. 
Lying on the eiderdown quilt, which covered 
his knees, was a pouchful of his favourite 
Maryland tobacco, books of cigarette papers, 
and piles of sheets covered with his fine and 
delicately-formed handwriting. He never 
wrote with anything but pencil, which made 
the compositors' work very difficult, especially 
as in reading his work over he would gene- 
rally alter one word out of five. 

As soon as he saw me (sometimes I stood 
in front of him for ten minutes before he was 
aware of my presence, so completely did his 
work absorb him), he would start, and exclaim, 
"What, is that you, cousin? What o'clock 
is it ? The window, the window ! " and before 
I could do anything to stop him, he would 
jump out of bed, and, regardless of weather or 
temperature, throw the window wide open. 
Then he would get back into bed, put his 


hand through his heavy forelock, look at me 
in a confused sort of way, and end by burst- 
ing out laughing. These antics usually had 
the result of sending tobacco, cigarettes, and 
sheets of paper flying across the room, and, if 
there was any wind, whirling round the table. 
I used to rush to the rescue of the precious 
prose, and when I had collected and put the 
scattered manuscript in order as well as I 
could, I would sit down in the only armchair, 
and our talks would begin. At last, towards 
six o'clock, and by dint of persecution, I con- 
trived to drag him from between the sheets, 
and out we went into the streets. 

The street ! Ah ! when one walked it arm-in- 
arm with Villiers, it was no longer a common- 
place and more or less symmetrical assemblage 
of paving-stones, asphalte side-walks, road- 
ways, shops, and houses. It became a strange 
entity, with a million different living existences 
a hybrid, complex, contradictory being, by 
turns mysterious, terrible, cynical, innocent, 
cruel, loving, tragic, or grotesque. By dint 
of treading it for so many years, he had taken 
root in it, and was, so to speak, one of the 


strangest products, the most striking types, of 
that world, at once so great and so limited, in 
which certain figures stand out with such 
clearness from the moving mass, that, once 
seen, they can never be forgotten. Amongst 
those physiognomies which seem to form an 
integral part of the street crowd, and which 
one misses there when death removes them, 
some are dramatic, some comic, some hideous. 
Some are sad, some poetic, others mad ; but 
all attract your attention, and even obtrude 
themselves on your notice, by some personal 
originality of appearance. And in no case 
more so than in that of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, 
with his supple and yet uncertain gait, his 
immeasurable scorn of the laws of fashion, and 
that sleep-walking look which the cruel and 
much dreaded irony of his speech and laughter 
belied. He knew all the secrets, all the hidden 
sores, all the grandeur, of the merciless streets 
of Paris. In the course of our perambula- 
tions together, he would point out to me 
houses of whose secret dramas, comedies, or 
idylls, he knew every detail. He would ex- 
plain, with that sort of stammer which added 


to the charm of his talk, that the exterior 
of houses generally matched their interior 
history ; that there were murderous ones, 
broken-hearted ones, gay ones ; that some 
were passionate, some sepulchral, some volup- 
tuous, ay, and some haunted even. For he 
averred, and quoted many a strange story in 
support of his opinion, that there were more 
haunted houses in Paris than in any other 
town in Europe. Several of them he had 
inhabited himself. And the recent events in 
the house on the Quai Voltaire would have 
filled him with delight. I make no doubt 
whatever he would have liked to live there. 

But it was especially when we reached the 
Boulevard Montmartre " a 1'heure de 1'ab- 
sinthe," that Villiers became my most invalu- 
able guide and cicerone. All that population 
of charlatans which swarms before the cafes, 
money-lenders, money-getters, and rogues 
sham litterateurs and sham artists jour- 
nalists, venal, if not already bought, scandal- 
mongers, masters in the art of blackmail, 
stealers of other men's ideas, well-dressed 
blackguards, elegantly apparelled demi-mon- 


daines, swindlers, rastaqiioueres, he unmasked 
them all in short, sharp, vengeful sentences, 
burning with implacable scorn. And in the 
very bitterness of his satire, one felt how 
these beasts of prey must have devoured his 
flesh and his substance. They meanwhile 
pretended to respe<5t, while hating and fearing 
him. They dreaded those terrible sarcasms, 
which the next day's papers would noise 
abroad, as the galley-slave dreads the brand- 
ing iron. So they bowed themselves down 
before him, and as soon as he was past they 
stabbed him in the back. 

After these walks, Villiers often came and 
shared the simple dinner which my Breton 
cook used to prepare for me ; and this made 
a change for him from the indescribable and 
poisonous eating-house stews on which he 
was in the habit of feeding. 

There were two things besides the fact of 
our friendship which had the precious gift of 
retaining Villiers in my house during the 
evening hours : my balcony, and an excellent 
piano by Pleyel, which was the chief adorn- 
ment of the little sitting-room. 


On soft clear nights we used to spend 
much of our time leaning over the balcony, 
smoking almost silently, and letting our 
dreamy thoughts, grave or gay, wander across 
the great tumultuous-looking sea of roofs, 
whose dark, motionless waves seemed to lose 
themselves in the mists of the horizon. Now 
and then Villiers would draw himself up, 
erect and very pale, and stretching out his 
white hand, as though to claim the attention 
of the night, he would recite in a ringing 
voice some passage out of whatever work he 
might be engaged upon. His memory was 
so good that he knew by heart almost every- 
thing he had ever written. In such surround- 
ings the effect was profoundly impressive. 
High over our heads the twinkling stars ; 
at our feet the huge city, its continuous roar 
rising towards us ; while from the lips of the 
poet the harmoniously balanced periods fell 
in even, eloquent flow, clear, sonorous, and 
strangely melodious. He would work him- 
self up at the sound of his own voice, and, 
his eyes fixed in a sort of ecstasy and his 
gestures raised to God, he seemed no longer 


to belong to earth. And I listened, dumb 
with admiration. And when at last he 
ceased to speak, it seemed to me that a lamp 
had suddenly gone out, and that the world 
was darkened around me. Villiers thus 
recited to me all the finest passages of " L'Eve 
Future," and I vividly remember* the state 
of wild delight into which we were both put 
by the chapter headed "The Puppet addresses 
the Night." 1 We would re-enter the drawing- 
room, and Villiers, still shivering with the 
excitement of inspiration, would rush to the 
piano, and, striking some powerful chords, 
would begin with the full strength of his 
voice the magnificent choral invocation in 
the first ai of " Lohengrin " " O Dieu du 
del en qui faifoi ! " 

If Villiers had applied himself to music, 
instead of choosing literature as his profession, 
I believe he might have been as remarkable 
and original a composer as he was a writer. 
Music is, of all the arts, the one which 
requires the greatest number of innate and, 

1 In the final edition this chapter bears the title 


so to speak, instinctive qualities, and these 
natural gifts he possessed to an extraordinary 
degree. From his earliest youth he had a 
feeling for rhythm and time, a correctness of 
ear, and a musical memory, which astonished 
his teachers. Yet he was never a good 
pupil, because in this, as in everything else, 
he loathed routine, and would not submit to 
a humdrum daily task. But, though he 
journeyed into the domain of literature, his 
qualities as a gifted musician followed him 
thither, and his very prose is musical. 

In the course of his life he composed or 
improvised a goodly number of strange 
melodies, songs, melopoeia, which unfor- 
tunately have never been collected. The 
best known, which all his friends have heard 
him sing, and to which I have already re- 
ferred, interprets that wonderful poem by 
Charles Baudelaire : 

Nous aurons des lits plains d'odeurs legeres, 
Des divans profonds comme des tombeaux. 

Our beds shall be scented with sweetest perfume, 
Our divans be as cool and as dark as the tomb. 


I remember two other compositions of his 
on lines by the author of the " Fleurs du 
Mai." One, " Le Vin de 1' Assassin," is the 
song of a man who has killed his wife, and 
every verse ends with this exclamation by 
the murderer, to which the music gives an 
unspeakable and indescribable horror : " Je 
1'oublierai si je le puis." " I will forget 
her ! if I can ! " In the other, entitled 
" Recueillement " ("Meditation"), he had 
obtained a striking effect with the lingering 
and mysterious accompaniment to which he 
had set that beautiful line : " Entends, ma 
chere, entends la douce nuit qui marche ! " 
" List, oh, my dear ! list to the night's soft 

I remember, too, though somewhat vaguely, 
some warlike ironico-popular songs which 
Villiers used to declaim with incomparable 
power. He had composed them in 1870, 
in collaboration with some other artists in 
the same corps of francs-tireurs, to while 
away the long night-watches of the siege ; 
so that the noise of the Prussian artillery, 
answering our own, was their first accompani- 


ment. If I add to these short-lived works 
a sort of comic opera, which never had a 
definite title, but whose chief and very 
ludicrous characters were a king, Paf, and 
his prime minister, Toe, and the chief joke in 
which was a serenade beginning with the 
words : 

Si ma priere criminelle 

Pouvait toucher les dieux retors ! 

If then my criminal appeal 

Should touch, for once, the wily gods ! 

I shall, I think, have pretty well exhausted 
the list of the poet's compositions in the 
lighter class of music. He was no stranger 
to the more serious style. He carried in his 
head (I do not believe he ever noted down 
an air in his life) two complete opera scores, 
choruses, orchestration, and directions for 
scenery, etc., etc., etc. 

One was composed on the subject of the 
" Esmeralda" of Victor Hugo, so murderously 
handled by Mdlle. Bertin, the other on the 
" Prometheus Unbound " of ./Eschylus, put 
into verse by my father. Those few privi- 


leged persons who, like myself, had the good 
luck to hear Villiers interpret the principal 
scenes of these two operas on the piano, 
will, I am sure, willingly join me in declaring 
that he affected them in a most unexpected 
manner, and revealed, rising above numerous 
gross faults and signs of musical inexperience, 
many a flash of genius and beauties of the 
highest order. Anybody susceptible of the 
slightest artistic emotion could hardly help 
being stirred, when, after a brilliant intro- 
duction, in which the tinkling of glasses, the 
clash of swords, the whirl of the dance, and 
the shouts of the revellers were all cunningly 
mingled in seeming disorder, Villiers, in a 
strident beggar's voice, began the wild open- 
ing chorus of his " Esmeralda." 

Vive Clopin, Roi de Thune ! 
Vivent les gueux de Paris ! 
Faisons nos coups a la brune 
Heure ou tous les chats sont gris. 
Dansons ! Narguons Pape et bulle ; 
Et raillons nous dans nos peaux ; 
Qu'Avril mouille ou que Juin brule 
La plume de nos chapeaux ! 


Now a merry health we bring 
To Paris beggars and their king ! 
Now we'll practise all our wiles ! 
On our sport old Bacchus smiles ! 
Merry fingers dancing snap 
At Pope or bull, nor care a rap ! 

Let April soak or June embrown 
The shabby plumes we've worn so long, 
We'll gaze on them without a frown, 
And turn our sorrows to a song ! 

Laughing at your sorry plight, 
Shabby plumes we've worn so long ! 
Soaked by April's showers light, 
Burnt by June's relentless sun ! 

Claude Frollo's air, with an accompaniment 
of Satanic laughter, made one shiver with 
horror : 

Eh bien, oui ! qu'importe ! 
Le destin m'emporte, 
La main est trop forte, 
Je cede a sa loi ! 

Demon qui m'enivres 
Qu'evoquent mes livres, 
Si tu me la livres 
Je me livre a toi ! 



Regois sous ton aile 
Le pretre infidele ! 
L'enfer avec elle 
C'est mon ciel a moi ! 

For good then, or ill, 
"Tis Destiny's will ! 
In terrified awe 
I bow to its law ! 

Friend raised in my heart 
By magic's black art ! 
If thou grant her to me, 
I'll yield me to thee ! 

Receive 'neath thy wing 
This priest full of sin ! 
All the heaven I desire 
Is her kiss, in hell fire ! 

Having accentuated this last phrase with 
furious energy, Villiers would spring from his 
seat, in an indescribable state of excitement, 
and walk up and down the room, his hands 
raised to heaven, and his eyes flashing, 
repeating in every sort of tone : 

L'enfer avec elle 
C'est mon ciel a moi ! 


Very different were the sensations of the 
audience when the poet, lightly touching the 
notes with his delicate hands, began the slow, 
melancholy rhythm of the admirable chorus of 
the Oceanides in the " Prometheus Unbound," 
with its arpeggio accompaniment like the beat- 
ing of distant wings. 

(Having calmed the paternal fears) 

Je t'aime, apaise ton effroi, 
Sur les vents aux rapides ailes 
J 'arrive de loin jusqu'a toi. 

A peine ai-je entendu dans notre grotte obscure 
Le marteau sur le fer, que mon coeur s'est trouble". 

J'ai monte sur ce char aile 
Dans mon empressement oubliant ma chaussure, 

Et la pudeur au sein voile. 

Oh, corps desseche sur la pierre ! 
Oh, meurtrissures et douleurs ! 
Un nuage effrayant de pleurs 
S'appesantit sur ma paupiere ! 

I love thee ! Prithee calm thy fear ! 

The fleet-winged winds have brought me here, 

Hastening thy trembling heart to cheer ! 


Scarce did I hear the hammer fall, 
With iron clang, in our dark grot, 
Than terror-struck, forgetting all 
In my wild haste, and recking not 
Of modesty, with close-veiled breast- 
With feet unsandalled, bosom bare, 
I sprang, obeying love's behest, 
Upon my car, and clove the air. 

Oh, wasted body on the stones ! 
Oh, cruel bruises, bitterest pain ! 
My sorrow-laden spirit groans, 
And from my eyes the teardrops rain ! 

I have said enough, I think, about the 
compositions of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam to 
make musicians regret that his friend Cha- 
brier would never take seriously the poet's 
desire that he should endeavour to note down 
some of his beautiful inspirations in writing. 
But in all times musicians have been jealous 
of their art, and are loath to admit that an out- 
sider, ignorant of fugue and counterpoint, can 
do any work worth listening to. As a general 
rule they may be right. But Villiers was an 
exception to all rules, and it is a pity that the 


composer of " Gwendoline " did not recognize 
that fad. 

The passion for melody used to come upon 
Villiers in regular crises, attacks of music 
madness which lasted from a fortnight to 
three weeks. During these periods he only 
lived for counterpoint. The only great men, 
for him, were Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and 
Wagner. Everything he wrote referred to 
music. Everything he did had music for its 
end and aim. Every piano he came across in 
his nightly wanderings served him to express 
his devotion to the art. He only associated 
with musicians and such musicians ! Oh, ye 
gods ! My evenings at home were turned 
into real splendid concerts, at which he was 
at one and the same time conductor, orchestra, 
accompanist, soloist, and critic ! As a pianist 
he was far from attaining perfection his 
fingering and time were both bad. As a 
singer, his voice was unsteady, and often 
broke ; but there was such fervour and fiery 
enthusiasm and conviction in his delivery 
and declamation, that in spite of his imper- 
fections it was a deep delight to listen to him. 


It was during one of these fits of music 
madness that he brought me a very odd 
couple of musicians, brother and sister Cor- 
sicans, called, I think, Olivetti. The man 
was a sort of a thin sunburnt giant, with a 
black stubbly beard, long neglected hair falling 
over his shoulders, and the eyes of an incen- 
diary. My Breton servant always locked 
up the plate-box as soon as he arrived. 
He was invariably dressed in velvet, brown, 
ribbed velvet, very threadbare ; a huge red silk 
scarf was rolled round and round his neck, and 
he wore a soft grey felt hat, with an immense 
brim, victoriously cocked on one side of his 
head. Although a charming pianist, he was 
almost starving. He was a member of the 
" Internationale," and had been in trouble with 
the Italian, Russian, and French police. He 
had also been compromised during the Com- 
mune, and was forced to hide and to live from 
hand to mouth on a few ill-paid lessons and the 
poor salary of an accompanist to the singers 
in tenth-rate tea-gardens. His sister, Giulia, 
was a handsome soft-eyed Italian ; she had 
a pretty soprano voice and some musical 


knowledge. Villiers made her sing Wagner, 
which she hated, and it was irresistibly funny 
to see and hear his bounds of rage, and angry 
shouts of indignation, when she would persist in 
warbling her Italian airs. Fortune has smiled 
on the pretty Giulia. A few months after I 
made her acquaintance she captivated and 
married a Chicago gentleman who had made 
a considerable pile of dollars by cutting up, 
salting, and selling pigs. She now lives in 
America. She took her brother there with 
her, and I have no doubt that he is not quite 
such an energetic Socialist now he has money 
in his pocket. 

Fortunately Villiers' musical acquaintances 
did not all possess such a startlingly Bohe- 
mian flavour. He owed to music a friend- 
ship and an admiration which brightened the 
whole of his intellectual life. His intimacy 
with Richard Wagner was not only a source 
of consolation and intellectual enjoyment to 
him, it inspired some of his noblest thoughts 
and some of the finest pages he ever wrote. 
The example of that marvellous and mighty 
genius, insulted, opposed, and scorned to his 


latest hour, without this flood of hatred and 
injustice ever being- able to break down his 
faith in his own prodigious powers, helped 
Villiers to endure, on his part, the disdainful 
smiles and indifference of his contemporaries, 
strengthened him in his lofty disdain of those 
well-beaten paths wherein mediocre intelli- 
gences gather their quickly-fading laurels, and 
fixed him immovably in his convictions and 
his artistic faith. Though in my relation of 
some facts concerning this friendship I speak 
with veneration of Richard Wagner, I can no 
longer hope to receive any blows in the good 
cause. The author of "Tristan and Isolt" 
is hallowed by fashion, and politicians no 
longer dare to bring the ridiculous accusation of 
lack of patriotism against his admirers. But 
twenty years ago, and less, it was considered 
the correct thing to run down Wagner's music 
whether you were acquainted with it or not. 
Nowadays no woman of fashion thinks her- 
self complete if she does not fall into ecstasies 
over the right places in " Lohengrin" and 
" Tannhauser." Every self-respecting pianist 
thumps the master's overtures, and all our 



young girls study Elsa, and try to ape her 
drooping and mystic postures. The outcast 
of yesterday is the idol of to-day ! Well, God 
be praised ! It is but the way of the world. 


First introduction of Wagner and Villiers at the house of 
Charles Baudelaire Failure of " Tannhauser" at 
the Paris Opera in 1861 Portrait and character of 
Richard Wagner His friends and champions His 
intimacy with Villiers Reminiscences of his youth 
and early poverty Augusta Holmes Villiers' visit 
to Triebchen The "Rheingold" at Munich Villiers 
de 1'Isle Adam's artistic confession of faith. 

T was, as I think I have already said, 
at the house of Baudelaire in 1861, 
that Villiers de 1'Isle Adam first 
met Richard Wagner. This meet- 
ing marks the date of what was, perhaps, the 
bitterest moment in the stormy life of the 
great composer. He secretly nursed a ran- 
corous memory of these sufferings, and, after 
the war, his unworthy and undignified abuse 
of Paris betrayed the feeling. By dint of 


hard work and patience, combined with his 
genius, he had forced Germany to receive 
and recognize him as a master in his genera- 
tion. But he was determined to have the 
approval of Paris also, and offered " Tann- 
hauser" to the Imperial Academy of Music. 
The history of his failure, complete, crushing, 
almost unique in theatrical history, is known 
to all. Wagner's was one of those strange 
individualities to which nobody could be in- 
different ; he must rouse either blind admira- 
tion or violent hatred, and he roused, alas ! 
more hatred than devotion. The chorus of 
evil-speaking, abuse, and scorn, which rose 
from every side after the performance of his 
work in Paris, would have broken down any 
other man ; but, unlike most others, the great 
German master was never so much in his 
element as in a desperate fight. It seemed to 
endow him with fresh strength and redoubled 
scorn, and he generally replied to each torrent 
of abuse by some proud defiance thrown in 
the teeth of the tastes, the conventionality, 
the prejudices, and the jealousies of the day. 
At this moment, then, when Wagner was 


shining with all the light of his indomitable 
determination, Villiers, young and enthusiastic 
as he was, met him for the first time. This 
interview never faded from his recollection. 
Richard Wagner, with his high, remarkable 
forehead, almost terrifying in its development, 
his deep blue eyes, with their slow, steady, 
magnetic glance, his thin, strongly-marked 
features, changing from one shade of pallor 
to another, his imperious-looking hooked nose, 
his delicate, thin-lipped, unsatisfied, ironical 
mouth, his exceedingly strong projecting and 
pointed chin, seemed to the poet like the 
archangel of celestial combat. And on his 
side, in those hours of bitterness, the soul of 
the great musician must have been strongly 
drawn towards those few select spirits, who, 
in spite of adverse clamour, boldly took up 
his quarrel and defended and admired him. 
His strong friendship with Catulle Mendes, 
Baudelaire, Villiers, and a few others, dated 
from this epoch ; but similarity of tastes, and a 
way of looking at dreams and reality, men 
and things, identical with the other's, specially 
attracted the young poet and the already 


grey-haired musician towards each other. 
They were, besides, united by a common 
passion for midnight walks. Wandering about, 
careless of weather, hour, or locality, through 
the mysterious sleeping streets of Paris, the 
two friends seldom separated before the dawn. 
Once, as they went down a long dreary street 
which ends at the Quai Saint Eustache, Wag- 
ner suddenly pointed, with a tragic gesture, to 
the window of a garret at the very top of a 
high house. There it was that he had really 
despaired ; there he had almost died of 
hunger, had meditated suicide, and there, too, 
in the midst of the blackest poverty, he had 
written one of his most powerful and poetic 
works. He told Villiers, in that French 
stuffed with Teutonisms which made his 
conversation so odd-sounding, all the extra- 
ordinary adventures of his youth in Paris : 
how, towards 1839, impelled by destiny, 
he suddenly left Riga, in the theatre of 
which town he conducted the orchestra, and 
embarked on a sailing-ship which was going to 
London, intending to go thence to Paris. A 
fearful storm wrecked the vessel on the Nor- 


wegian coast ; but Wagner did not lose courage, 
and reached the end of his journey. Almost 
unknown as he was, and in a most precarious 
pecuniary position, he saw the doors of the 
Parisian theatres scornfully shut in his face. 
Spurred by necessity, he tried to write ballads 
for the concerts, but, alas ! he was not the man 
to write French romances, and his efforts only 
aroused derision. To be brief, hidden in that 
garret, like a fox buried in his lair, penniless, 
starving, he was meditating suicide, when a 
musical publisher came and proposed to him 
to arrange some operatic airs for the cornet a 
piston; and so the cornet a piston was the 
instrument of Richard Wagner's salvation ! 
Living with the utmost economy, he con- 
trived, by the end of a year of unexampled 
privation, to get together the necessary sum 
for hiring a piano. " I trembled in every 
limb," he said to Villiers, " when I first ran 
my fingers over the keys, but I soon found, to 
my exquisite joy, that I was still a musician." 
And now the muse of inspiration poured 
out upon him the fulness of her riches. The 
memory of the shipwreck in which he had so 


lately shared, of the sea as he had seen it 
under the awful flashes of the tempest, the 
deep fiords, the bluff promontories, haunted 
his imagination ; then suddenly he saw, flying 
across the foggy Scandinavian sea swift as an 
arrow, illuminated by a dazzling lightning flash, 
the dreary ship of that legendary hero, " The 
Flying Dutchman." And in the bare, cold, 
Parisian garret, Richard Wagner, indifferent 
now to all physical suffering, alone with his 
genius, and with his shabby, hired piano, com- 
posed and wrote that splendid lyric poem which 
he christened " Der Fliegende Hollander." 

But if I was to give way to the temptation 
of recalling all Villiers' conversations concern- 
ing his great and musically-gifted friend, 
another volume would have to be grafted on 
to this one of my recollections of himself. 
Never, indeed, was the author of " Axel " 
more eloquent, and indeed prolix, than when 
his theme was Richard Wagner. One felt 
that a part of the soul of the master had 
literally entered his ; and when he para- 
phrased in words some one of his works, he 
gave you, so to speak, an illusion of music. 


In the fine book which Catulle Mendes has 
dedicated to the glory of the German maestro, 
he relates that Villiers had written down one 
of these paraphrases, I think the one of the 
prelude to " Lohengrin." I do not think it has 
ever been published I have never been able 
to come upon it. If the former director of the 
" Revue Fantaisiste " has the work of his late 
comrade in his possession, and can be induced 
to publish it, he will deserve the gratitude of 
all lovers of literature. 

Such was Villiers' passionate cultus for 
Wagner, that, in spite of all his poverty, I 
might say penury, he would contrive to make 
long journeys into Switzerland and Germany 
in order to enjoy the company, the conversa- 
tion, and the music of the author of " Tristan 
and Isolt." During one of these distant ex- 
peditions to Triebchen, near Lucerne, he came 
upon a young girl whom he had already met 
in Paris, and whose splendid talents, now well 
known and uncontested, he had been among 
the first to recognize and applaud I refer to 
Mdlle. Augusta Holmes. Villiers was en- 
raptured at once with this young and beautiful 


artist, admirably gifted, filled with sacred fire, 
ready to make any sacrifice on the altar of art, 
and making light, in her sturdy confidence, of 
the thousand obstacles which bar a woman's 
entrance into the road to glory. Long after- 
wards, in 1885, the great writer, in a charm- 
ing article, written in an enthusiastic and 
stirring strain, detailed his recollections of 
his intercourse with the young musician. I 
quote two passages from it. I must premise 
that Villiers saw her for the first time at 
Versailles, in the house of her father, Mr. 
Dalkeith Holmes, in the Rue de 1'Orangerie, 
whither he had been carried off rather against 
the grain, by M. Camille Saint Saens, who 
was his companion that day : 

" That evening, we heard some oriental 
melodies, the earliest musical thoughts of the 
future authoress of 'Les Argonautes,' 'Lutece,' 
' Irelande,' and 'Pologne,' and which seemed 
to me to be already almost free from the 
conventionalities of the old style of music. 

" Augusta Holmes had one of those in- 
telligent voices which can adapt itself to any 
register and indicate the most delicate shades 



of a musical work. I am generally inclined 
to mistrust those cleverly-managed organs, 
which often (to the appreciation of an un- 
initiated audience) immensely heighten the 
value of a commonplace composition. But 
in this case the air was worthy of the accent, 
and I was enchanted with the ' Sirene,' the 
' Chanson du Chamelier/ and the ' Pays 
des Reves,' not to mention the * Hymne 
Irlandais/ which the young composer inter- 
preted so that pine-encircled glades and 
distant heaths rose before our mind's eye. It 
was altogether a bright spot, musically speak- 
ing, pointing to an inevitably brilliant future. 
The evening ended with some passages from 
Wagner's ' Lohengrin,' lately published in 
France, and to which Saint Saens introduced 
us. The young composer was passionately 
smitten with the new music, and her admira- 
tion for the author of ' Tristan and Isolt ' has 
never since belied itself." 

Here is the account of the meeting at 
Triebchen : " Two months before the Ger- 
man war I met Mdlle. Holmes at Triebchen, 
near Lucerne, in Richard Wagner's own 


house ; her father having, in spite of his great 
age, decided to take the journey to Munich, 
in order that the young composer might hear 
the first part of the ' Nibelungenlied.' 

"'A little less sentiment for my wishes, 
mademoiselle ! ' said Wagner, after he had 
listened to her with the clear-sighted and 
prophetic attention of genius. 'I do not 
want to be, to a creative genius like yours, 
the manchineel-tree whose shadow stifles all 
the birds that come within it. A word of 
advice ! Do not belong to any school espe- 
cially not to mine ! ' 

" Richard Wagner did not wish the ' Rhein- 
gold' to be played at Munich. Although 
the score had been published, he objected to 
the work being seen apart from the three 
other portions of the ' Nibelungenlied.' His 
great dream, ultimately realized at Bayreuth, 
was to give a representation lasting four 
successive evenings, of this, the great work 
of his life. But the impatience of his young 
and fanatical admirer, the King of Bavaria, 
had broken all bounds, and the ' Rheingold ' 
was to be played by ' royal command.' Wag- 


ner, who had refused all participation and all 
assistance, anxious and saddened by the way 
in which the unity of his great masterpiece 
was about to be destroyed, had forbidden 
any friend of his to attend the performance. 
And many musicians and men of letters, 
amongst them myself, who had twice travelled 
to Germany to hear the master's music, 
hardly knew whether to obey his distressing 
injunction or not. 

" ' I shall look upon anybody who coun- 
tenances that massacre, as my personal 
enemy,' he said to us. 

" Mdlle. Holmes, although driven into sub- 
mission by the threat, was reduced to despair ! 

" However, the letter of Kapellmeister 
Hans Richter, who was conducting the 
orchestra at Munich, having somewhat re- 
assured Wagner, his resentment against the 
passionate zealots of his music softened, and 
we took advantage of the momentary calm 
to depart, almost on the sly. 

" I have before me as I write a letter, and 
rather a bitter one, which Wagner wrote 
me to Munich, and in which he says, 'So 


you have gone with your friends to see how 
people can toy with a serious work well ! 
well ! I count on some inexterminable pas- 
sages in it, to atone for much that might 
appear incomprehensible ! ' 

" The predictions of the master were falsi- 
fied by the brilliant triumph of the ' Rhein- 
gold ' a triumph more foreseen than actually 
apparent, for this opera is only fully in- 
telligible when seen in conjunction with the 
three other portions of the ' Nibelungenlied,' 
of which it is the key. All his adherents 
were present at the performance, in spite of 
his threats and prohibitions, and I remember 
seeing that night, in the first row of the 
visitors' gallery, Mdlle. Holmes, sitting next 
to the Abbe Liszt, and following the render- 
ing of the opera in the orchestral score- 
book belonging to the illustrious musician " 
("Vie Moderne," Paris, 1885). 

Need I add that Villiers was one of the 
first Frenchmen to hurry to Bayreuth in 
1876, when, thanks to the sumptuous munifi- 
cence of the King of Bavaria, Richard Wag- 
ner was able at last to realize his great dream. 


I should like to close this veracious chro- 
nicle of the fraternal relations which existed 
between the great German master and the 
great French thinker, by quoting a page or 
two written by Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, which, 
though almost unknown to scholars, would 
nevertheless be worthy in every way to 
become the fitting preface of his collected 
works. Villiers, in a purely imaginary con- 
versation, put into the mouth of the beloved 
master, has summed up all his own artistic 
and religious convictions. 

When we consider how hard and miserable 
was the life of him who poured out his soul 
and his conscience in this magnificent con- 
fession of an artist's faith, we can hardly 
read it without deep emotion. 

" One twilight evening we were sitting in 
the darkening room looking over the garden, 
the rare words we interchanged, with long 
spaces of silence between them, scarcely dis- 
turbing our pleasing meditations, when I 
asked Wagner, without useless perambula- 
tion, whether it was, so to speak, artificially 
(by dint of science and intellectual power), 


that he had succeeded in investing his works, 
' Rienzi,' ' Tannhauser/ ' Lohengrin,' ' The 
Flying Dutchman,' even the ' Meistersinger ' 
and ' Parsifal,' over which he was already 
brooding, with that strongly mystic quality 
which emanates from them all ? Whether, 
in short, he had been sufficiently freethinking 
and independent of conscience to be no more 
of a Christian than the subject of these lyric 
dramas demanded of him ; and, finally, whether 
he looked at Christianity in the same light 
as that in which he viewed those Scandi- 
navian myths, the symbolism of which he 
had so magnificently illustrated in the Nibe- 
lungen Ring. This question was almost 
authorized, indeed, by something which had 
struck me very much in one of his principal 
operas, ' Tristan and Isolt,' viz., that in 
that work, in which the most intense pas- 
sionate love is scornfully ascribed to the 
influence of a love philtre, the name of God 
is never mentioned a single time. 

" I shall always remember the look Wag- 
ner fixed on me out of the depths of his 
wonderful eyes. ' Why,' he said with a smile, 


' if I did not feel in my inmost soul the 
living light and love of that Christian faith 
of which you speak, my works, which all 
bear witness to it, and in which I have in- 
corporated all my mental powers, as well as 
the whole of my lifetime, would be the works 
of a liar, of an ape ! How could I be childish 
enough to work myself up into a frenzy 
about what at bottom I should know to be 
an imposture ? My art is my prayer ; and, 
believe me, no true artist can sing otherwise 
than as he believes, speak but of what he 
loves, write otherwise than as he thinks. 
Those who lie, betray it in their work, which 
thenceforth becomes sterile and valueless, 
for no true work of art can be accomplished 
without disinterestedness and sincerity. 

" ' Yes ! he who for the sake of some low 
interests, for success, or for money, tries to 
make a fictitious faith stir in a so-called work 
of art, betrays himself, and only brings forth 
a corpse. Should such a traitor pronounce 
the name of God, not only does that name 
not signify to the listener what he who pro- 
nounces it would have it mean, but being, 


as it is, a word, and therefore a living thing, 
it gives, by his supreme profanation, the lie 
to him who utters it. No human being can 
be deceived by such a device, and the author 
of it can only be valued at his proper worth 
by those of his own genus, who recognize in 
his want of truth that which they are them- 

" ' The first sign that marks the real artist 
is a burning, precise, sacred, unalterable faith ; 
for in every artistic production worthy of 
a human being, the artistic value and the 
living value are blended together, in the dual 
unity of the body and the soul. The work 
of a man without faith can never be the 
work of an artist, because it will always lack 
that living flame which raises, enraptures, fills, 
warms, and fortifies the soul. It will always 
be like a corpse, galvanized into life by some 
trivial machine. At the same time let this be 
clearly understood: if, on the one hand, Know- 
ledge alone can only produce clever amateurs, 
great inventors of "methods," of modes of 
action, of expressions, more or less consum- 
mately skilful in the manufacture of their 


mosaics, and also shameless plagiarists, who, 
to put one off the scent, will assimilate 
millions of incongruous sparks of intelligence, 
which lose their brightness when they re- 
appear out of the tinselled emptiness of such 
minds, on the other hand, Faith alone can 
only produce and give vent to those sublime 
cries of the soul which, because they cannot 
properly formulate themselves, appear, alas ! 
to the vulgar, to be but incoherent clamour. 
The true artist, he who can create, and put 
together, and transfigure his ideas, needs 
these two great gifts indissolubly united, 
Knowledge and Faith. As for myself, since 
you ask me, above all things I am a Christian, 
and the accents which touch you in my work 
owe their inspiration to that alone.' ' 


The marquis and the marquise Villiers' filial tender- 
ness A monomania for speculation A letter from 
the marquis Villiers' contributions to thepress The 
" Figaro " " La Republique des Lettres " Catulle 
Mendes J. K. Huysmans The "Contes Cruels" 
Two quotations Villiers' high spirits His loss of 
illusion A study by M. G. Guiches Villiers as a 
talker and a mimic Some unpublished traits of Dr. 
Triboulat Bonhomet Bonhomet the commander-in- 
chief Bonhomet the ermine-hunter Bonhomet ful- 
filling the letter of the Scriptures Bonhomet's true 
adventures at Bayreuth The political opinions of Vil- 
liers de 1'Isle Adam An unexpected toast A rupture. 

E AN WHILE, lost in a poor and 
remote quarter of Paris, leading 
a lonely existence made up of priva- 
tion and sacrifices, a frail old lady 
lived on, supported and consoled by her great 
love for her Matthias. Yes, the old marquis 
and marquise were still in the land of the 


living. Poverty, age, and suffering, cold and 
hunger, had not succeeded in putting out 
their feeble lamp. The marquise, as I have 
said, only lived for and in her son, and she 
bravely endured the cruellest trials, rinding her 
buckler against all ills and her consolation in 
all her sorrows in the worship and tenderness 
of her boy. Villiers was more than a good 
son he was an admirable son. I think he 
poured out all the treasures of tenderness 
which were garnered in that great heart of his 
upon his mother. When he spoke of his 
parents, especially of her (he never did 
mention them except to his closest intimates, 
and those gentlemen of the boulevards never 
heard him profane the sacred name of father 
or of mother in their company), the tears 
would come into his eyes. The moment his 
pen brought him in any money, he would tear 
off to the Avenue Malakoff (where the old 
people inhabited two modest rooms), to share 
his earnings with them, and would return 
from such expeditions with a radiant face. 
Nevertheless, the marquis used to cause him 
some considerable trouble. Time, far from 


calming the old nobleman's mania for specula- 
tion, had only intensified it. Age and infir- 
mity had not diminished his activity, and he 
walked the streets from morning till night on 
the look-out for wonderful opportunities. No- 
body, luckily, paid him much attention, but he 
would try to insist on whirling Matthias away 
with him, and making him share in the execu- 
tion of the extraordinary plans he used to pro- 
pound daily. Hence arose occasional and 
lively discussions, which ended in a hearty 
laugh on Villiers' part, and the indignant 
retirement of his father, who would exclaim, 
" Well, in spite of all your talent, Matthias, you 
will never be anything but an empty dream ! " 
The old marquis kept his dreams and visions 
as long as he lived. The very year of his 
death he wrote his son the following letter, 
which depicts the extraordinary state of this 
astonishing visionary's mind better than the 
longest psychological study : 

V, 1883. 


" We desire to make known our good 


fortune to you. I hereby introduce to you, 

Mr. L , who is at this moment the 

possessor of 25,000 francs, and who, at this 
time of writing, owns a well-furnished dining- 
room, and who is about to furnish his recep- 
tion rooms with splendid pink satin curtains 
(which I have had in my hands), also a good 
piano, a superior sofa, and furniture to match. 
Besides this, he will have a beautiful country 
place, with a magnificent feudal residence 
with turrets, a park, fields, meadows, and 
vineyards, and several leagues of forest, 
wherein we shall be able to exercise our 
prowess as sportsmen. And we shall own 
(in a perfectly regular manner) some mines, 
the riches of which I expect you to help me to 
work, with our own capital. 

"Your father, 

This period of Villiers' life, although the 
necessary investigations for the writing of 
"L'Eve Future" absorbed him very much, was 
exceedingly productive, and his literary noto- 
riety enabled him to place his copy very easily. 


He contributed tales to several daily papers 
which piqued themselves on their literary 
columns. The " Figaro," which, to its honour 
be it said, always liked and appreciated him, 
used to receive his work with deference. But 
his most active collaboration was given to a 
new magazine, " La Republique des Lettres," 
a publication too purely artistic to have any 
chance of longevity in this matter-of-fact 
century. In the office of the " Republique 
des Lettres" he found many of the friends of 
his earlier days, who had rallied round the 
former director of the " Revue Fantaisiste," 
Catulle Mendes. Like himself these artists 
were all growing old and grey in the heavy 
harness of life and thought. All of them had 
lost the greater part of their illusions, but all 
had preserved intact their sacred and coura- 
geous love of the ideal and the beautiful, and 
their indignant horror of empty platitudes. 
To this well-trained phalanx some youthful 
spirits had joined themselves, and here De 
1'Isle Adam laid the foundation of his friend- 
ship with a young writer of special and original 
talent, J. K. Huysmans. This acquaintance 


was to ripen, some years later, into a deep, 
tender, manly affection. Providence had 
marked out the now justly celebrated author 
of " A Rebours," and so many other deep 
and clever works, to soften by his presence 
and his delicate strong-heartedness the cruel 
death-agony of the poet. I shall return later 
to the subject of this intimacy. 

Villiers also busied himself with collect- 
ing his scattered tales into a volume called 
" Contes Cruels," which, published the following 
year by Calmann Levy, set the seal upon his 
reputation as a great artist. This work, 
better perhaps than any other, shows the 
author's complex, original, and many-sided 
talent. His symbolism is magnificently exem- 
plified in such pieces of writing as " Impatience 
de la Foule " and " Vox Populi ; " his mysticism 
shines brilliantly in "Vera;" his deep and 
bitter sense of philosophical raillery produces 
those strangely attractive, almost prophetic 
tales, " La Machine a Gloire," " L'Affichage 
Celeste," " L'Etna chez soi," to which last the 
recent anarchical struggles in Paris give a 
striking reality. And in those brilliant pages 


of " L'Annonciateur," which even one fresh 
from the perusal of Gustave Flaubert's " He- 
rodias " must needs read with profound emo- 
tion, the poet and the idealist pours forth all 
the overflowing wealth of his imagination. 
It was concerning " L'Annonciateur" that its 
author wrote : " If I think great thoughts, 
people will say that what I write is fine litera- 
ture ; yet it is but the clear expression of my 
thought, and not literature at all ; for that has 
no real existence, beyond being the clear ex- 
pression of what I think." 

He has elsewhere described his own idio- 
syncrasy, and his destiny as an artist and a 
thinker, in these remarkable and sadly sym- 
bolic terms : " Alas ! we are like some mighty 
crystal vase of Eastern story, filled with the 
pure essence of dead roses, and hermetically 
enveloped in a triple covering of wax, of gold, 
and of parchment. One single drop of the 
essence thus preserved within the precious 
urn (the fortune of a whole race, handed 
down by inheritance as a sacred charge, 
hallowed by the ancestral blessings), suffices 
to perfume many vessels of pure water, which 



in their turn will embalm the air of the tomb 
or dwelling wherein they are set, for many a 
year. But (and herein lies our crime) we do 
not resemble those other jars filled with com- 
moner perfume, scentless and melancholy phials 
not worth reclosing, whose virtue weakens and 
melts away under every passing breath." It 
would be wrong to imagine Villiers as a sple- 
netic and silent person in everyday life, not- 
withstanding the bitterness of his irony and 
his immense range of thought. He was gifted, 
on the contrary, with a robust cheerfulness, 
never more apparent than when he was 
struggling with difficulty. In the early days 
of his Paris life, he had given rein, in all 
companies, to that enjoyment of the fact of 
living which expressed itself in his case by an 
overflow of wit and humour. But he soon 
perceived, alas ! that the raptures of his audi- 
ence were not disinterested. When these 
literary good fellows saw De 1'Isle Adam 
coming, they would get out their note- 
books, and his sayings, his ideas for stories, 
his humorous fancies, were all carefully 
collected by these skimmers of the literary 


pot. So that the poor poet, opening a news- 
paper or magazine at random, would find his 
own ideas and creations shamefully travestied 
and mutilated, and impudently signed with 
names which bore no resemblance to his 

These underhand thefts, and many another 
mean treachery, poisoned a naturally sincere 
and simple nature. M. G. Guiches has very 
happily reproduced the change which took 
place in the poet's heart, actually affecting 
even his physical appearance, in a remark- 
able study of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, published 
in the " Nouvelle Revue," May, 1890. 

" When he at last became aware of this 
pilfering," says M. Guiches, " when he under- 
stood the interested object of the raptures 
which used to encourage his ready tongue, 
there was a sudden reaction within him. His 
soul, naturally as open as the day, shrank 
within itself, his ingenuousness intrenched 
itself behind a distrust as excessive as his 
simplicity had once been. His speech grew 
hesitating, shorn of its former frank uncon- 
strainedness. Sudden flashes of suspicion filled 


his eyes with sudden shyness. His hand was 
no longer outstretched ; it waited yours, and 
was only offered with the indolence bred of 

But when Villiers was far from the boule- 
vard, far from professional literary men, 
when he was warmed and revived in an atmo- 
sphere of sincere friendship and admiration, 
he became himself again, and his dazzling 
gaiety poured itself forth in all sorts of un- 
expecled conceits. It was like a perpetual 
show of fireworks, and the supply of squibs 
and crackers, Bengal lights and Roman 
candles, used to seem inexhaustible. 

He was not only a good story-teller, he 
could mimic like a great and original aclor, 
and he thus gave the innumerable personages 
created by his imagination an air of genuine, 
if often fantastic reality, simulating, as he 
would, their looks and voices, their gestures 
and their attitudes. Amongst all these crea- 
tions, which seem as if they belong to the 
dreams of Hoffman, Edgar Poe, or Dean 
Swift, Villiers' favourite was always the illus- 
trious Triboulat Bonhomet, " the son of little 


Dr. Amour Bonhomet, who had adventures 
down in the coal mines." 

During many a delightful evening, and in 
the course of those long midnight rambles 
through Paris which used to pass so quickly 
away in his company, I have witnessed many 
of the metamorphoses of that remarkable and 
scientific individual. For Bonhomet, accord- 
ing to his creator's notion, was, while always 
continuing the archetype of his century, to 
be reincarnated in every position a man could 
occupy. He was to be, turn about, professor, 
minister of state, police agent, philosopher, 
explorer, and lecturer. I remember some of 
these transmigrations, which were never pub- 
lished, Villiers having been prevented by 
death from putting them into circulation. 

First of all, there is a General Bonhomet, 
commanding-in- chief, who harangues his 
troops before the battle. He points out to 
them that the idea of glory and patriotism is 
quite out of date, and calls upon them to court 
death in defence of agriculture, manufactures, 
and commerce, the three sources of the pros- 
perity of France. " Soldiers ! let us have no 


more empty enthusiasm for hollow and ex- 
ploded Utopias ! Fight, conquer, and die for 
the safety of our railway system ! " 

Then, as a pendant to Bonhomet the slayer 
of swans, there was Bonhomet the ermine- 
hunter, who, having read that one of these 
immaculate creatures dies as soon as a stain 
marks its snowy whiteness, hides himself with 
a wonderful silent gun, charged with ink, and 
thus exterminates several dozen ! 

But the boldest conception of all is, perhaps, 
Bonhomet the religious man. 

After a visit to Patmos, the details of which 
beggar all description, the doctor determines 
to fulfil the letter of the Scriptures, " that there 
shall not remain of Jerusalem one stone upon 
another." And having observed, as he passed 
through the holy places, that arches, walls, and 
houses were still standing, he returns to Jeru- 
salem, accompanied by a contractor and an 
army of workmen, to accomplish the scriptural 
prophecy to the letter, and leave no stone upon 
its neighbour ! I must not bid a final farewell 
to the doctor without detailing an authentic 
but little known anecdote, in which he plays 


the chief part. During the autumn of 1 8 79, 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, together with Judith 
Gautier, Catulle Mendes, and many other 
musical adepts, had gone to Bayreuth to see 
the divine Wagner, and assist at the per- 
formance of " Parsifal " and the " Nibe- 
lungenlied." The great master, who was all 
powerful at the Bavarian Court, presented 
Villiers to the king and his august guests, 
among whom was that Grand Duke who is 
now Czar of all the Russias. Wagner had 
talked so often about Triboulat Bonhomet 
that, willy nilly, the poet had to agree to give 
a reading from his works. For this purpose 
the whole court was assembled. 

From the outset there was a murmur of 
stifled laughter and a rustle of unfurling fans. 
As the reading proceeded, the gaiety of the 
audience increased, growing quite noisy, and 
unchecked by the presence of the king, who, 
for that matter, laughed louder than the rest. 
Villiers was much astonished, and a little un- 
easy even, at this extraordinary hilarity. He 
knew well enough that his Bonhomet had a 
very comic side, but he never expected to 


raise such a gust of merriment among per- 
sonages so grave and important. At last the 
tempest of laughter rose so high that the 
reader ceased and cast a glance, full of vague 
suspicion, round his audience. The Grand 
Duke of Saxe -Weimar, who sat beside him, 
touched his shoulder, and pointed to a person 
sitting just opposite them. Villiers, with a 
little sharp cry, dropped the manuscript from 
his trembling fingers, and gave evident signs 
of lively terror. There, in front of him, sur- 
rounded by a bevy of beautiful women, gazing 
at him with shining eyes, his enormous mouth 
open in stentorian laughter, his huge hands 
leading the applause, was Dr. Triboulat Bon- 
homet himself, in flesh and bone (principally 
bone !). It was Liszt ! From the very first 
line of the manuscript, which minutely de- 
scribed the doclor, the whole audience had 
been struck with the resemblance between 
the great pianist and Triboulat Bonhomet, 
and as the description went on the likeness 
increased dress, gestures, habits, all bore a 
striking similarity. One person alone did not 
perceive the identity, and he laughed louder 


than the rest Liszt himself. As the situation 
worked itself out, the fits of laughter became 
almost convulsing, for Villiers read on with 


the most imperturbable gravity. After this 
incident quelgiornopiu nonsileggemmoavante!* 

I have spoken but little, up till now, of the 
political convictions of the author of the 
" Contes Cruels." The truth is, that though 
he was Royalist by racial instinct and Catho- 
lic by conviction, he considered contemporary 
politics, in the depth of his heart, as a low and 
vulgar science, the triumph of lying, hypocrisy 
and platitude, and an end unworthy of the pur- 
suit of minds inspired by the divine breath. 
Nevertheless, during his short career as editor 
of " La Croix et 1'Epee," he constituted him- 
self the champion of the cause of the Naun- 
dorffs. I fancy that the strange mystery 
which even now surrounds the origin of his 
claim, fired the poet's imagination more than 
the personal qualities of the starveling pre- 

He remained a Naundorfnst even after he 

1 "That day no further leaf we did uncover." Inferno, 
canto v. 


was no longer at the head of the newspaper, 
and was convinced of the incontestability of the 
claims of the future Charles XI. to the throne 
of France. Let no one hastily conclude that 
this was nothing but his fancy. More serious 
persons than Villiers, after minute research, 
have shared his conviclions on this head. 
Jules Favre, who defended the pretensions of 
the Naundorffs before the French tribunals, 
was persuaded of the rightfulness of his 
clients' claim. Since that time much evi- 
dence has come to light, the authenticity of 
which it would be hard to disprove, showing 
that at all events Louis XVII. did not die 
in the Temple. The Comte d'Herisson, in a 
curious book published some years ago, and 
called " Le Cabinet Noir," has elucidated all 
this strange affair very clearly, and a perusal 
of his work, supported as it is by documentary 
evidence, is calculated to inspire doubt as to 
the rival pretensions of the two branches of 
the Bourbon family in the most incredulous 
and sceptical minds. 1 

1 Since the publication of the Comte d'Herisson's book, 
another has appeared on this knotty point, " L'Enfant du 


However that may be, Villiers was still, in 
1879, an enthusiastic partisan of the Naun- 
dorffs, when an incident which took place that 
year completely separated them. 

A few faithful followers of the monarch in 
expectancy had joined together to give a 
dinner in his honour. Villiers was sitting, 
silent and absorbed, on the prince's right. 
Among the guests was the old Comte de 

F , who for forty years had devoted 

everything intellect, energy, time, and for- 
tune to the welfare and success of him whom 
he looked upon as his legitimate sovereign. 
The august guest lost his temper (on what 
account I know not) with his old and faithful 
servant, and, before all the assembled com- 
pany, he so overwhelmed him with reproaches 
and abuse that the poor old man burst into 
sobs. A stupor of indignant astonishment 
fell upon the little gathering ; and in the 
midst of the general silence, Villiers rose, 

Temple," by the Baron de Gaugler, published by Savine. 
An authoritative work, proving the right of the Naundorffs 
to style themselves the descendants of the Dauphin of 



glass in hand, and turned towards the prince. 
"Sire!" he said, "I drink your majesty's 
health. Your claims are certainly beyond 
dispute. You have all the ingratitude of a 


Fragments of a journal kept in 1879 A woman of 
fashion bewitched Villiers and Mar' Yvonne A 
mystery Villiers a candidate at the elections of 
the Conseil General Opinions of the press 
Meetings The plans of the future councillor 
My departure from Paris Our separation Descrip- 
tion of Villiers in 1880 by G. Guiches. 

UN TING through old papers for 
any traces I might possess of the 
dear dead friend whose life I am 
endeavouring to relate, I have 
come across several sheets of notes, written 
about this time, towards the end of 1879. 
This journal is full of Villiers, with whom 
I was living in almost daily intercourse, 
and though it may be devoid of any other 
merit, it has at all events this one, that it 
was drawn from the life, and that it faithfully 
reproduces my original impressions. From 


it, therefore, I cull the story of one of the 
last incidents in the poet's Parisian life of 
which I was a witness. The reader will, I 
am sure, forgive my endeavouring to vary 
the monotony of my tale by the quotation : 

"October, 1879. Matthias has been back 
from Bayreuth for some days, and gave me 
only yesterday an exemplification of the extra- 
ordinary bewitching power of his conversa- 
tion over every human being who hears it. 
A distant relation of my own, young, charm- 
ing, elegant, and deplorably frivolous, is just 
now passing through Paris. She has come 
to make some purchases, to buy a trousseau, 
and I really believe her sole mission in life 
is to match ribbons and silks. God alone 
knows what is inside the head of a young 
and fashionable woman coming to Paris, with 
a pocketful of money, to ' do her shopping ! ' 
It appears to me that nothing exists for her 
beyond shops, milliners, dressmakers, lace 
vendors, jewellers, and so forth. Yesterday, 

however, Madame de X was good enough 

to come to my house to rest a moment, and 
talk about our own part of the country. 


But she had shown me her list of engage- 
ments, and made her conditions beforehand. 
Half an hour by the clock, neither more nor 
less, she was to spend with me. Towards 
half-past two, that is, after the first quarter 
of an hour, in came Matthias, with whom she 
had not been previously acquainted. . . . 
Well ! when Mar' Yvonne, my Breton servant, 
brought in the lamp at six o'clock, my 
charming cousin was still sitting on the sofa, 
gazing admiringly at Villiers, who, standing 
in the middle of the room, was demonstrating 
to her, with unutterably comic gestures, how 
the King of Bavaria valsed! Who can tell 
how the miracle was accomplished ? These 
performances of his beggar all description ; 
they must be seen to be realized. During 
yesterday afternoon Villiers played the piano, 
sang, and acted through the whole of the Nibe- 
lungen trilogy, interspersing his performance 
with queer stories, vile puns, astonishing 
reflections, and bitter jests. He imitated one 
after the other, and with astonishing power, 
all the august, illustrious, and crackbrained 
people he had met at Bayreuth, from the 


king and the princesses down to the crazy- 
looking musical professors from the German 
universities. He gave us a magnificent 
description of the way in which the impetuous 
and tyrannical maestro, Wagner, ruled the 
little court with his iron rod, and lorded it 
over the king just as an usher in a school 
will lord it over a lower boy. He was, in 
short, as he can be now and then, inimitable 
and irresistible. ' Yes,' my young relative 
said, ' I am furious and delighted too ! I 
never was so much entertained in all my 
life ! He is more amusing than all the Paris 
theatres put together.' 

" When I came back I found him disputing 
with Mar' Yvonne in my bedroom. He was 
turning over the contents of my wardrobe, 
to choose himself some white cravats. ' Ah, 
these are what I want,' he said ; ' serious 
ties, very serious ties, most serious ties ! ' He 
wrapped three up in an old newspaper, and 
was going away without speaking to me after 
a hearty silent handshake. I tried to ques- 
tion him. ' Hush ! a mystery ! of capi- 
tal importance ! you shall know all about 


it by-and-by ! ' and he went off bursting with 
laughter. There was an alarming look in 
his eyes which made me suspect some terrible 
humbug. I cross-questioned Mar' Yvonne. 
She said : ' I am sure, sir, that Monsieur 
Matthias is plotting something. He has 
brought me two shirts to iron, and he 
said to me, " You understand, Mar' Yvonne, 
that they must be shiny as shiny as the 
inside of your saucepans ! " What can it all 
mean ? Has he any matrimonial projects ? ' 

" November, 1879. There were no matri- 
monial plans, and Villiers' new mad project 
surpasses for comicality the best conception 
of the immortal Labiche. He has offered 
himself as a candidate in the i yth Arrondisse- 
ment at the elections to the Conseil General 
of the Seine, which are to take place on 
the loth of next January ! Nor is this all ! 
the progenitor of Bonhomet is supported by 
the Royalist committee in Paris, which intro- 
duces him, patronizes him, and pays all his 
electioneering expenses. It seems utterly 
improbable, and still it is absolutely true. 
He has bewitched the most solemn per- 



sonages, captivated the stiffest dowagers, and 
gained the enthusiastic support of the clergy 
of his parish. Those shirts and cravats were 
for his meetings, of which it appears he has 
already held two, both brilliantly successful. 

" His adversary is the redoubtable negro, 
Heredia, a red Republican for all his black 
skin. All the newspapers to-day are talking 
of this unexpected candidature, and laughing 
at it. The ' Figaro ' is, as always, sym- 
pathetic to Villiers, but it looks upon the 
whole thing as somewhat of a poetic fancy. 
Some old Royalist papers, however, such as 
the 'Gazette de France,' support the claims 
of the great writer with many laudatory 
phrases. This very day I have had a long 
talk with my cousin about the whole busi- 
ness, and I have convinced myself that, in 
spite of pleasantries and banter, he does not 
at heart look upon it as at all a matter of 
humbug. I am certain he has a secret hope 
and desire of success. How full of contra- 
diction is the human breast ! This admirable 
poet, this artist par excellence, has just let 
fall to me this phrase, incomprehensible as 


coming from his lips : ' After all, I hold 
Bulwer's opinion that the really successful 
man should begin by literature, go on to 
public life, and end in office.' Fortunately 
this is but a dream of ambition flitting across 
his mighty brain, and he will soon laugh at 
it himself. He has, moreover, no chance 
of being elected, whatever his illusions may 
be. He told me himself that he had some- 
what alarmed some worthy delegates who 
interviewed him, by stating that, if he was 
honoured by election, he should demand, 
from the aesthetic point of view, the demo- 
lition of several monuments, such as the 
Opera House, the Church of St. Sulpice, and 
the Pantheon. And he also desires, with the 
object of providing a refuge for literary men, 
to obtain the re-establishment of the Debtors' 
Prison ! " 

Let me add to these fragments of per- 
sonal notes the following passage extracted 
from an article I have already mentioned, 
and which was dedicated by Villiers de 1'Isle 
Adam to the glory of Mdlle. Augusta 


" I had been chosen as the candidate of 
the Royalist committee at the elections for 
the Conseil General of Paris, on the roth of 
January, 1880. If my memory serves me, 
my candidature was for the iyth Arrondisse- 
ment, in opposition to that redoubtable revo- 
lutionist, M. de Heredia. It may be added, 
by the way, that the results of these elections, 
within five-and-twenty votes, being nowa- 
days perfectly well known beforehand, I had 
accepted the nomination solely for the sake 
of the honour of being beaten. 

" I obtained, as I expected, the suffrages 
of six hundred electors ; my worthy anta- 
gonist (whose touching fugitive poetry the 
' Figaro ' was then publishing) obtained the 
resulting majority of a thousand or twelve 
hundred votes to which he owes his triumph ; 
and thus both men of letters were content. 

" But with regard to what concerns us just 
now, the amusing part of the business is this : 
At that time the project of an Academy of 
Lyric Composition for the town of Paris was 
already much discussed, and one evening 
before the great day I declared at a party, 


before two of the most matter-of-fact and 
red Republican of the councillors, that if, 
contrary to all expectation (for after all the 
election has its whims), I was successful in 
this venture, my first care, when the proper 
moment arrived, would be to point out to 
the commission the practical competence and 
usefulness of the eminent composer as a pos- 
sible member of the official jury of this body. 
Then, with that gentle and self-satisfied smile 
which is so eminently characteristic of such 
individuals, those two guileless ones called 
me a poet (which always entertains me), and 
dismissed my project to the limbo of space. 
So I dubbed them prosy, in order to gratify 
their little vanity, and I was not at all sur- 
prised to hear that it was those two members 
who, if report speaks truly, influenced the 
commission the next year in favour of the 
musician, and had her placed upon the jury 
by an enthusiastic majority. What poets 
our municipal councillors are ! " 

I did not see the end of this wonderful 
adventure. Important family events called 
me back into Brittany, at the end of 1879, as 


I then thought for a short visit ; but providence 
ruled otherwise, and I have never been in 
Paris since, except as a casual visitor. 

Thenceforward, in spite of my deep affec- 
tion for Villiers, and our years of close inti- 
macy, I only held rare communication with 
him, with here and there a hasty meeting 
rarer still. Does this imply that he was faith- 
less-hearted ? No, indeed ! He had, on the 
contrary, what is popularly called a heart of 
gold. But in order to demonstrate his affec- 
tion to you, he needed your bodily presence. 
He lived so much in the far-away land of 
dreams, that if you did not remind him con- 
stantly and tangibly of your existence, you 
came little by little to hold a vague and 
shadowy place in his mind, like the sweet 
and far-off memory of some loved and long- 
lost friend. And this was my fate. New 
elements, too, and more intimate affections, 
entered into his life ; his increasing literary 
reputation brought him new friendships and 
new admirers, and forced him into more 
regular and constant literary production. His 
last years were certainly his fullest. Then 


came sickness, the hospital ward, and death, 
without, alas ! our having met again and re- 
knitted the strands of our old friendship. 
What matter ! my faith is his that if life 
is hard, it is at all events short and soon we 
shall meet again ! 

Here then end my personal reminiscences. 
I owe my ability to add in one last chapter 
some details of the poet's later life to the nu- 
merous articles concerning him published im- 
mediately after his death. Amidst these 
articles, filled, many of them, with inaccuracies 
and absurd apocryphal stones, there is one 
which should fix the attention of all artists. 
It was published by M. G. Guiches in the 
" Nouvelle Revue," and has already been 
often referred to in the pages of this book. 
The young and subtle author (whose psycho- 
logical researches have not withered up his 
heart) has succeeded perfectly in fathoming the 
hidden depths of the nature of the author of 
"Axel." He has shown in a strikingly true 
and touching way the slow metamorphosis of 
that ingenuous nature, in the midst of the hypo- 
crisies, the cruelties, and the villainies of life, 


and he has given the most admirable and 
speaking word-portrait of the poet that I am 
acquainted with. I reproduce it here. When 
the reader has perused it, let him turn back to 
the picture at the beginning of this volume, 
and the Villiers de 1'Isle Adam of 1880, 
resuscitated by the magic of the pen and the 
art of the graver's tool, will appear lifelike 
before him. " He would raise his head, 
proudly tossing back his hair with a noble 
gesture, and you saw his face in all its in- 
tellectual beauty. The broad forehead, lined 
with parallel wrinkles, proclaimed the supreme 
harmony of the mental powers which had ex- 
panded it, as it were, into a superb page in the 
book of art. The deep depressions on the 
temples denoted the mathematical aptitude of 
which he so often gave proof. The light blue 
eyes bore all the external characteristics 
which betoken the possession of exceptional 
powers of memory, and the prominent eye- 
balls, swimming in the light of his mystic 
visions, or dimmed with the tears which any 
religious emotion or deep artistic feeling would 
bring to them, made his glance strangely 


luminous. All the life of the countenance had 
gathered towards and remained in the upper 
part of the face the lower part was so reduced 
that it seemed to disappear. The animal or 
sensual characteristics of the face were ren- 
dered invisible by the fact that the swelling 
contour of the cheeks concealed the angle of 
the jawbones, while the chin, hidden under a 
Louis XIII. beard, betrayed by its smallness 
his want of decision in practical matters. The 
slight moustache, often twisted up a la mous- 
quetaire, was out of harmony with the expres- 
sion of the mouth, full of the anxiety of a 
dreamer who scents danger from afar, pursued 
into the excesses of his dream by the torments 
of daily life, and tasting, even yet, the bitter- 
ness and painful humiliation of the solicitations 
which necessity had driven him to utter. 

" From that mouth issued strange laugh- 
ter, sometimes ingenuous, long and hearty, 
sometimes short and jerky, sometimes low, 
yet shrill, like the laughter of some old 
savant, half-mad with learning, when he 
discovers the precious meaning of some 
ancient inscription, or, again, like the diabolic 



gaiety of those old gnomes who are described 
in ancient German books as inhabiting the 
moss-grown belfry towers of the Father- 


Closing years Birth of a son Villiers' widow Little 
Totor and his father Success of the "Contes 
Cruels" Appearance of "L'Eve Future" in the 
" Gaulois "The " Vie Moderne "The murderous 
treatment of the " Nouveau Monde " at the Theatre 
des Nations The deaths of the marquis and the mar- 
quise J.K.Huysmans "ARebours" His opinion 
of Villiers' work " Triboulat Bonhomet " " Propos 
d'au-dela " " Akedysseril " " L J Amour Supreme " 
" L'Eve Future " Lectures in Belgium Return to 
Paris Prosperity ' ' Histoires Insolites " " Nou- 
veaux Contes Cruels" "Axel" Sickness Letter 
from J. K. Huysmans, detailing the last moments 
and the death of Villiers Conclusion. 

HE most important event in this 
part of Villiers' life is obviously 
the birth of his son. The entrance 
into his dreary existence of this 
child, upon whom he could pour out all the 


tenderness of his heart, till now jealously 
treasured up, gave fresh energy and buoyancy 
to the great and unhappy poet, who had ima- 
gined that all earthly happiness was ended for 
him. It is worthy of remark how much 
Villiers' literary fertility gained in amount and 
in regularity from this time. Doubtless his 
paternal responsibilities obliged him for the 
first time to face the realities of life in a 
practical fashion. 

I never was acquainted with the person 
who now bears the brilliant, if burdensome, 
name of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. I know 
that she was without any education, of the 
humblest extraction, and I am aware that the 
liaison gave rise to much calumny on the part 
of the poet's enemies, and much sadness and 
astonishment on that of his friends. But I 
know, also, that for ten years that woman was 
the brave and faithful companion of the great 
artist ; that she softened the closing bitterness 
of his life by her affection and devotion ; 
that she shared his poverty, nursed him in 
sickness, and that in bearing him a son she 
gave him the one pure happiness that he ever 


knew in this world. And I know, lastly, that 
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, lying on his deathbed, 
on the very brink of eternity, did not think 
this humble companion unworthy of that 
supreme act of self-sacrifice by which he gave 
her the right to bear his name before God 
and men. For all these reasons, the widow 
of Villiers has a right to the deference of all 
admirers and friends of her late husband, and 
I believe I shall best show mine by wrapping 
the story of this liaison, which after all con- 
cerns nobody but the actors in it, in respectful 

As soon as little Victor (" Totor," as he 
was called in the intimacy of his family circle) 
had left his first baby lispings behind him, and 
was able to toddle a little, he became the con- 
stant companion of his father's walks. In the 
daytime one was seldom to be met without the 
other, and there used to be something at once 
comic and touching in Villiers' delight, asto- 
nishment, and admiration over the prattlings of 
his little son. 

The "ContesCruels," published by Calmann 
Levy, appeared in iSSi, and in spite of the in- 


difference of the Parisian public to all really 
artistic work, the book was too powerful and 
too original not to create a certain amount of 
sensation. Some of the chief critics scornfully 
gave the work a few laudatory sentences, and 
straightway the press followed like a flock of 
sheep. So great is the power of journalism 
that a few weeks made Villiers famous. He 
took advantage of this revival of popularity to 
place his copy in various papers and magazines, 
and thus earn a little money. Meanwhile 
" L'Eve Future" was nearly finished. Some 
of his friends, knowing the writer's difficulties, 
proposed to occupy themselves with the en- 
deavour to get this, the crowning effort of his 
literary life, published as a serial. Although 
the idea of seeing his work cut up and served 
to the public in daily slices made Villiers 
shiver with horror, he accepted, driven by 
hard necessity. It was the " Gaulois " which 
had the idea of offering the profound and 
startling work of the gifted writer as intellec- 
tual food to its readers all of them habitual 
admirers of Ohnet, Tarbe, and Montepin. 
The issue had to be stopped at the tenth 


number, for the middle-class public left off 
subscribing in swarms. The disappointment 
was not great to Villiers, who had always 
looked upon the appearance of " L'Eve Fu- 
ture " in the serial columns of the " Gaulois " 
as a sort of gigantic joke. It was not till two 
years later (in 1884) that his book found a 
setting worthy of it in the beautiful and luxu- 
riously got-up review, " La Vie Moderne," 
then published by Charpentier. Villiers even- 
tually became one of the most assiduous contri- 
butors to this truly artistic publication. 

I will only mention in the most summary 
manner the ridiculous performance of the 
" Nouveau Monde," which took place at the 
Theatre des Nations in 1883. There is no use 
now in raking up old quarrels ; but Villiers 
was cruelly played upon and shamefully de- 
ceived on that occasion. He ought never to 
have allowed his play to see the footlights 
under conditions which made its failure a 
foregone conclusion. I was not present on the 
opening night. There were six performances. 
Mdlle. Rousseil was simply grotesque, and I 
have been assured that she acted badly on 


purpose. One of my brothers was present, 
one evening, at the massacre, and he told me 
that the hubbub in the auditorium was deafen- 
ing. Villiers led the clamour, armed with ahuge 
key, on which he whistled noisy Tyrolean airs. 
This remarkable historical drama, perhaps the 
finest ever written on that particular subject, 
still awaits the good pleasure of some intelli- 
gent and artistic manager. But I hardly know 
whether that rare bird exists in France. 

A cruel and twofold separation, rendered, 
however, less cruel by his strong religious 
faith, was reserved to Villiers in the end of 
1883. The two lights which had for so 
many years cast a ray of warm affection over 
his otherwise dreary life, went out, almost 
suddenly, one after the other. The marquise 
and the marquis died quietly at a few months' 
interval in their little dwelling in the Avenue 
Malakoff. Life had not been unfriendly to 
them on the whole. The marquis till his 
last hour lived in his brilliant dreams, deaf 
and blind to all reality, seeing each day in 
some fascinating mirage the fortune and the 
glory he was to attain the next! 


The illusions of the marquise were more 
silent and tenderer, all concentrated as they 
were on her Matthias. In her day-dreams 
she saw him crowned with an aureole of 
glory, and the plaudits of the newspapers 
(their dagger-thrusts were always concealed 
from her by his filial tenderness) beguiled till 
its last throb that heart so absorbed by 
maternal love. Poor Villiers wept sorely, 
prayed devoutly at the bedside of his dead 
parents, spent all the money he possessed 
(not much, poor fellow!), in having them 
fittingly buried, and then went back with 
a burst of passionate tenderness to his little 

It was at this moment that he gave up 
living in furnished lodgings, having inherited 
from the old couple their simple furniture, 
amongst which survived one or two rem- 
nants of former grandeur, a grand piano by 
Pape, and a Louis XV. table with fine 
copper mounts. 

Providence owed Villiers some compen- 
sation for such bitter sorrows, borne with so 
much Christian resignation ; and if the void 



caused by the loss of his parents was never 
entirely filled, yet some strong and con- 
siderate friendships, which surrounded him 
even on his deathbed, did much to lessen it. 
Among these friends, none was more useful 
and more congenial to him than M. J. K. 
Huysmans. Until the year 1884, the two 
writers had frequently met at close quarters 
without making acquaintance. Each was 
afraid of the other's exterior, and neither 
realized their great psychological and in- 
tellectual resemblance. This resemblance 
was, however, not identical. For while Vil- 
liers allowed his dreams to eddy at the mercy 
of contrary winds across the broad sphere of 
speculative thought, Huysmans, more master 
of his own thoughts, and holding the reins 
of his imagination even in its wildest flights, 
condensed his into one of the strongest, 
most original, best conceived and best exe- 
cuted books of modern times. I allude to 
"A Rebours." 

Knowing as I did the innermost depths 
of Villiers' nature, I can imagine, judging 
from my own sensations, what exquisite 


pleasure the perusal of this fascinating book 
must have given him. I can see his blue 
eyes fill with tears as he turns over those 
pages instinct with living and immortal art 
Such emotions are amongst the noblest and 
most beautiful in life ! But that which must 
have specially touched Villiers is that the 
accomplished writer had devoted an impor- 
tant passage in his book to the author of 
" L'Eve Future." I reproduce here, shorten- 
ing it a little, Huysmans' opinion of the 
works of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. But I 
should state that it was formed before the 
publication of his two masterpieces, " L'Eve 
Future " and " Axel." 

" He then turned his attention to Villiers 
de 1'Isle Adam, in whose scattered works he 
still noted some seditious passages, and in 
which some thrills of morbid emotion still 
vibrated, but which, with the exception at 
least of ' Claire Lenoir,' no longer shed such 
an overwhelming sense of horror on the 
reader. This last story was evidently in- 
spired by those of Edgar Poe, whose love of 
close discussion and taste for the horrible it 


reproduces. The same might be said of 
' L'Intersigne,' which was later on inserted 
in the ' Contes Cruels,' a collection of tales of 
indisputable talent, amongst which was one, 
' Vera/ which Des Esseintes [the hero of 
Huysmans' book] looked upon as a master- 
piece in miniature. In this last the fanciful- 
ness of the story is full of an exquisite 
tenderness. We no longer have the gloomy 
phantoms of the American author, but a 
warm, translucent, almost celestial vision, the 
opposite, though in an identical style, of 
Beatrice and Ligeia, those pallid spectres 
raised by the inexorable nightmare of the 
opium-eater. This story also treats of the 
operation of the human will, but not as 
to its weaknesses and failures, under the 
influence of terror. It studies, on the con- 
trary, its excitement under the impulse of a 
conviction, developing into a fixed idea, and 
demonstrates that power which succeeds even 
in pervading the very atmosphere, and im- 
posing its will on intangible things." 

" But," he went on to say, " there exists 
another side in the temperament of Villiers, 


far more keen and clearly-defined a side 
of gloomy jesting and cruel raillery. This 
gives rise, not to the paradoxical mystifi- 
cations of Edgar Allan Poe, but to that sad 
banter of the heavy-hearted jester in which 
Swift revelled. 

" One series of short pieces, ' Les Demoi- 
selles de Bienfilatre,' ' L'Affichage Celeste,' 
' La Machine a Gloire/ ' Le plus beau diner 
du monde,' reveal a power of banter of a 
singularly bitter and inventive order. All 
the impurity of contemporary utilitarianism, 
all the ignominy of the century, are glorified 
in these works, whose pungent irony so de- 
lighted Des Esseintes." 

A little further on, in an anthology which 
Des Esseintes has had printed for his own 
use " a little chapel with Baudelaire as its 
patron saint" we find the " Vox Populi" of 
Villiers : " A superb coin, struck in a golden 
mould, with the effigies of Leconte de L'Isle 
and of Flaubert." 

This great book, " A Rebours," was the 
bond which united Huysmans to Villiers de 
1'Isle Adam in what was to prove a lasting 


friendship, the tender consideration and 
manly affection of which was most beneficial 
to the latter, softening to him many a blow, 
many a bitterness, and many a humiliation. 

If he had lived long enough it might have 
given him a taste for a regular, sober, retired 
and studious existence, and have drawn him 
away by degrees from the terrible manner of 
life which ended by consuming his strength. 
But it was too late. By the time Huysmans 
knew him, death had marked him for his 
own ! 

Villiers de 1'Isle Adam produced a great 
deal between the publication of the " Nouveau 
Monde" and that of " L'Eve Future" (1883 
to 1886). First of all came " Triboulat Bon- 
homet," the first volume of a long series he 
projected, which was to relate with minute 
detail all the adventures and discoveries 
of the worthy doctor. This is how the 
author expresses himself on the subject 
in the preface placed at the head of this 
work : 

"We first of all, in order to initiate the 
public into the character of Doctor Bonhomet, 


give three tales which illustrate in a general 
manner his individual peculiarities. 

" Next, the doctor himself takes up his 
parable and tells us the more than strange 
story of ' Claire Lenoir,' the heavy responsi- 
bility for which we leave entirely on his 
shoulders. If, as we have some reason to 
fear, this personage, whose a6lual existence 
is incontestable, obtains some popularity, we 
shall soon publish, not without regret, certain 
anecdotes of which he is the hero, and certain 
aphorisms of which he is the author." 

This volume, besides " Claire Lenoir," con- 
tains the admirable ironical allegory of Bon- 
homet the swan-hunter, " The Paper of Dr. 
Triboulat Bonhomet on the ' Utilization of 
Earthquakes/ " and the " Banquet of the 

"Triboulat Bonhomet" was followed by 
" Propos d'au-dela" (i vol., published by 
Brunhoff), and the superb prose poem, 
" Akedysseril," which reproduces in realistic 
fashion the dazzlingly splendid visions of the 
East Indies. Then, almost simultaneously 
with " L'Eve Future," another dreamy work, 


full of dignity and sadness, "L'Amour Su- 
preme," appeared at the same publishers, 
and, in 1886, " L'Eve Future" in its final 
form appeared in the booksellers' shop-fronts 
garbed in a whimsical covering. Villiers 
gave the key to this book when he dedicated 
it " To dreamers and to scoffers." Its pages 
are indeed the lists in which those two cham- 
pions, fancy and irony, struggle eternally 
together without either coming out the victor. 
The author wrote for this book, the most im- 
portant work of his literary life, a long preface, 
the first part of which only was published at 
the beginning of the volume. M. G. Guiches, 
in the remarkable study from which I have 
already frequently quoted in the course of this 
work, has reproduced the original text in its 
entirety. I will only cite the following frag- 
ment : " I know no precedent for my book, 
none like it, nor analogous to it. Whether 
it arouses anger or merely meets with indiffe- 
rence, I do not think it will be utterly for- 
gotten, for in truth its gloomy pages do not 
treat of the famous ' De omni re scibile,' but 
rather of the ' et quibusdam aliis.' " 


The appearance of " L'Eve Future" caused 
a sort of stupor of astonishment amongst the 
ranks of the critics. These gentlemen really 
did not know what to say to it. It was not 
like anything that was generally written, 
and, besides, Villiers' reputation made them 
fear some mystification. Yet it was impos- 
sible to deny that this one book contained 
more imagination, more scientific knowledge, 
and more art than all the other works appear- 
ing at the same time put together. The re- 
viewers, to get out of their difficulty, launched 
into vague praises or puerile jests, diluted 
with sugary compliments, and all of them, 
without much understanding it, acclaimed 
the "incontestable intellectual superiority of 
this original conception." 

Villiers was forthwith consecrated a great 
writer, his renown crossed the Channel, and 
penetrated across the frontier, causing much 
preoccupation in Belgium, that literature- 
loving country, always on the watch for what- 
ever succeeds in France. The following 
year an association for providing courses of 
lectures on different subjects, having its head- 


quarters at Brussels, made lucrative offers to 
the author of " L'Eve Future." Villiers, 
although he was already sorely stricken by 
the malady which was eventually to carry 
him off, gladly accepted this opportunity of 
publicly enunciating his ideas on men and 
art. He started, and had not occasion, like 
Baudelaire, to complain of his reception by 
the worthy Belgians. His success was very 
great. Some hasty notes, written by him to 
a friend, and published by M. Guiches in the 
" Nouvelle Revue," enable us to follow the 
course of his triumphs. I reproduce them 
here. I should add, to make matters clear, 
that Villiers had left Paris just at the moment 
that a new collection of his tales, " Les His- 
toires Insolites," was about to appear at 

" My dear M , 

" I write in great haste. I cannot 
send to the 'Gil Bias' for the note till to- 
morrow, as I have just come in from a lecture, 
and am very tired in spite of the astonishing 
success I have had. 


" I beg of you (in great haste, post just 
going) to send out the presentation copies 
with the publisher's compliments, in the 
author's absence. This is constantly done. 
I can yet earn 800 francs by lectures here, 
so I cannot come back so soon. But I 
will give up the whole of to-morrow to 
drawing up notes and other matters for the 
book. And I have, besides, all the proofs 
of another book to correct right off. 

" At least 500 copies have been sold in 
advance in Belgium through my lectures, 
at which I have read, or am about to read, 
extracts. I go on Tuesday to Liege, then 
to Antwerp, Ghent, etc., and shall be in 
Paris in less than ten days. Greetings ! " 

" My dear M , 

" You send me no books, and yet 
you have no idea of the enthusiasm with which 
I am received here, nor that two or three 
hundred book-lovers are buying my works, 
which, rightly or wrongly, do not seem to have 
been written solely to be used for lighting 
fires. The newspapers say wonderful things of 


me, and I am very much pleased I am giving 
le<5tures in several towns, and hope to bring 
back a little money. I shall not be able to 
start back till Saturday or Sunday. It can- 
not be possible that the ' Histoires Insolites' 
are not even stitched yet. Hearty greetings ! 


" P.S. I have already caught the Belgian 

" My dear Friend, 

" Great haste, post just off. Huge 
success, five recalls, the queen, etc. Three 
columns about me in every paper. I am at 
the Grand Hotel, No. 147. 

" Hasty greetings ! 

" P.S. Send the ' Histoires Insolites' for 

Thus did fortune, so long perverse towards 
the poet, consent at last to shower her smiles 
upon him. Alas ! she only did it to make 


the final blows she was preparing to deal 
him seem more cruel ! She hated this great 
gentleman, this poet, who had always borne 
with magnificent scorn the deepest wounds 
she gave him, scarce feeling them, indeed, 
thanks to that sovereign balm of fancy which 
had been given to him at birth by his god- 
mother, the fairy queen of the ideal. And 
now, to avenge herself for all his disdain, 
she was about to call the forces of agonizing 
physical suffering to her aid. 

Everything smiled on Villiers in that year 
1888. He was free from want; he had 
grown famous ; publishers received him with 
a friendly smile ; he heard himself addressed 
as " Master " at the evening parties at Char- 
pentier's ; the smaller fry of the literary world 
buzzed flatteringly around him. " Axel " (in 
the "Revue Independante") was making a 
great stir. His books, the " Histoires Inso- 
lites " and the " Nouveaux Contes Cruels," 
were being bought. He himself was asto- 
nished at the sudden reaction. And lo ! sick- 
ness came upon him like a terrible, implacable 
enemy, threw its arms about him, overthrew 


him, cast him on his bed groaning, shivering, 
lost and convulsed in agonizing suffering. 
A short time before, the poor poet, weary 
of Paris, and longing for green woods and 
water, had retired to Nogent-sur-Marne ; 
and thither death sent his pale-faced emis- 
saries to take possession of him. 

Another pen, reader, more worthily than 
mine, will tell you how he left Nogent for 
the house of the Brothers of St. Jean de 
Dieu ; how his last hours passed, there, 
and how he died, after accomplishing a final 
sacrifice worthy of all his life. For I have 
appealed to one who was the deeply-moved 
witness and the chief support of Villiers' last 
agony, the last to bid him farewell on the 
shores of eternity, to relate in all its true 
and heartbreaking details the story of the 
poet's end. 

M. Huysmans understood the motive of 
my request, and he has consented, in spite of 
its bitterness, to revive the memory of the 
sad hours spent by that deathbed, for the 
sake of paying a last homage to his friend 
and comrade. Here is his letter: 


"Paris, April 21, 1892. 

" Dear Sir, and Brother Writer, 

" You are by no means a stranger 
to me. I have read your words about Vil- 
liers in ' L'Hermine,' and several times, if 
my memory does not deceive me, our late 
friend mentioned you to me. I knew, there- 
fore, that I had to do with one whose out- 
ward appearance only was unfamiliar, when 
Landry 1 spoke to me of the book you thought 
of writing. 

" Villiers was very dear to me, and like 
you (especially on evenings when I have had 
to endure some very empty chatter) I am 
haunted by the presence of him who certainly 
may be bracketed with Barbey d'Aurevilly 
as the two most astonishing conversationalists 
of our day. I first knew him many years 
ago (in 1876) at the house of Catulle Mendes, 
who managed the ' Republique des Lettres,' 
on which we were both writing. But our 

1 M. G. Landry, head clerk to M. Savine, the book- 
seller, whom I cannot sufficiently thank for the sym- 
pathy, help, and information he has given me during 
the writing of my book. 


friendships and our tastes alike differing, we 
soon drifted apart. We met again after the 
publication of ' A Rebours/ and thence- 
forward, far from the boulevards, our friendly 
relations recommenced. He used to come 
on Sundays, with his child, little Totor, to 
dine with me, and these occasions were 
memorable ones to those who met him. Sus- 
picious, and justly on the defensive as he 
generally was when he met literary people, 
the hesitating mode of expression in which 
he usually took refuge the moment he felt 
he had let himself go too far, was laid aside 
in the congenial atmosphere of faithful friend- 
ship and true admiration; and, safe from 
any fear of plagiarism or treachery, he would 
launch out and talk about his own life, in a 
fashion at once poetic and realistic, ironical 
and madly gay. 

" I remember, in this connection, one 
1 4th of July, when he came and dined with 
the father of Lucien Descaves, at Mont- 
rouge. After dinner, he sat down to the 
piano, and, lost in a sort of dream, he sang, 
in his cracked and quavering voice, bits of 


Wagner, mixed up with choruses of barrack 
songs, and joining all together with strident 
laughter, wild jokes, and quaint rhymes. 

"But nobody ever had such a talent for 
raising and transforming a joke into something 
far beyond its apparent scope, and even be- 
yond the widest range of possibility. There 
was a punchbowl always flaming, as it were, in 
his brain. How often have I seen him in the 
morning, just out of bed and hardly awake, 
holding forth as brilliantly as when of an 
evening he would tell us astounding anec- 
dotes and inimitable stories over our coffee ! 

" But our meetings grew rarer. Sickness 
prostrated him, laid him shivering in his bed. 
Weary of Paris, he settled at Nogent, and soon 
grew worse. Dr. Robin recognized the symp- 
toms of cancer, but disguised the truth, assert- 
ing that the malady was one of the digestive 
organs, and fortunately Villiers believed him. 
One day that he was more suffering than 
usual, the sick man complained to me about 
the house he was in. It was, as a matter of 
fa6t, as cold as a cellar, sunless, almost rotted 
with damp. He said he would like to leave 


it, and added that he needed skilful nurses to 
turn and move him in his bed. I mentioned 
the Brothers of St. Jean de Dieu in the Rue 
Oudinot in Paris, and two days later I had a 
letter from him saying he was settled in their 
house, thanks to the mediation of Coppee 
with the director, which obtained for him 
exceptionally easy terms of admission. I 
found him there delighted with the change, 
convinced of his speedy recovery, full of 
plans, amongst others to give up going to the 
brasseries on the boulevards and to work 
quietly in some corner far from the buzz of 

" He who had been so unlucky and so poor 
all his life was now in comparative affluence, 
and no longer haunted by detestable pecuniary 
anxieties. Mallarme, a very sincere and at- 
tentive friend, had opened a secret subscription 
for him, and I, on my part, had at my disposal 
a tolerable sum which the faithful Francis 
Poictevin had confided to me with the same 

" Villiers began at this time to talk about 
' Axel,' which was then on the stocks, and 


which he desired to remodel, suppressing 
some theories in it which, from the Catholic 
point of view, he thought were unorthodox. 
And then suddenly he grew silent. For the 
first time, perhaps, in his life, that gift of fancy, 
which had enabled him to forget all the end- 
less sufferings of life in the fairyland of his 
imagination, failed him. He beheld life as it 
really is, understood that cruel reality was 
about to wreak her vengeance on him, and 
then his long martyrdom began. 

" The digestive functions ceased to work, his 
strength failed, his emaciation became frightful. 
A sort of straw-coloured shadow crept over his 
features, and in the wasted face the eyes lived 
on, seeming to pierce the very soul of the on- 
lookers with their terrifying glance. In spite 
of the efforts of Madame Mery Laurent, a 
friend who nursed him and petted him, bring- 
ing him the most nourishing food and authentic 
wines, he could not eat, and death approached 
with rapid strides. 

" And here must come in the sad episode 
of his marriage. For reasons which he did 
not disclose, Villiers hesitated, hung back, 


would not answer when we spoke to him 
timidly, and with much circumlocution, about 
his little son, and suggested that in order 
to legitimize the child he should marry the 
mother, with whom he had long lived. Im- 
pelled by our argument, that probably after 
his death the Minister of Public Instruction 
would grant a pension to the child that bore 
his name, he at last consented. But when 
it came to fixing the day and getting the 
necessary papers together, he put us off, 
raised objections, and finally shut himself 
up in such obstinate silence that we had to 
be silent too. The friends who were in the 
habit of visiting him, Madame Mery Laurent, 
Stephane Mallarme, Leon Dierx, Gustave 
Guiches, and I myself, did not know what 
wiles to employ to induce him to yield. He 
was growing hourly weaker, and we began 
to fear he would die before we could get the 
documents necessary for the marriage to- 
gether. Sick with anxiety, it occurred to me 
one morning to apply to the almoner of the 
Brothers of St. Jean de Dieu, a Franciscan 
from the Holy Land, the Rev. Pere Sylvestre. 


He was a gentle and compassionate monk, 
who had already helped Barbey d'Aurevilly 
to die. I reminded him of the lamentable 
story, which he already knew, for Villiers had 
confessed to him and received the communion 
from his hand. 

"He simply answered: 'Well, just wait 
for me there. I will go up and say a word to 
him.' Five minutes later, he left the sick- 
room, and Villiers had consented to an imme- 
diate marriage. 

" Time pressed, and it was difficult to get 
hold of the certificates which were scattered 
about in different registry offices. Of the few 
friends who still remained faithful to him (his 
cafe and newspaper acquaintances had of 
course long since abandoned him), the only 
ones left in Paris were Leon Dierx, who was 
shut up all day in his office, Gustave Guiches, 
and myself. It was summer-time. Mallarme 
was ill, and had fled to the country. Madame 
Mery Laurent was away taking waters. 
There was a wild hunt after the necessary 
documents. Guiches and M. de Malherbe (a 
clerk at Quantin's bookshop, who was to be 


one of the wife's witnesses) devoted themselves 
to it, and between the three of us, with the 
help of an employe at the Mairie of the 
7th Arrondissement, M. Raoul Denieau, an 
admirer of Villiers, who smoothed down many 
difficulties which we should have stumbled 
at, we contrived on the very day appointed 
for the marriage to bring together the neces- 
sary certificates. The marriage took place in 
the sick-room. And here I hesitate somewhat 
to reveal the whole truth. But you will make 
whatever use you think right of this letter, 
and you will judge whether, amongst the facls, 
all of them absolutely true, which I send you, 
to strengthen the authoritative accuracy of your 
book, these particular ones should be given to 
the public. On the whole, I think myself that 
they should for the details of the suffering 
of such a man as Villiers are worth learning. 
" When it became necessary to sign the re- 
gisters, the wife stated that she did not know 
how to write. There was a terrible moment 
of silence. Villiers lay in agony with his eyes 
closed. Ah ! he was spared nothing. His 
cup overflowed with bitterness and humilia- 


tion ! And while we were all looking at each 
other, almost broken-hearted, the wife added : 
' I can make a cross as I did for my first 
marriage.' And we took her hand and helped 
her to make the mark. After the ceremony 
the four witnesses, Mallarme, Dierx, M. de 
Malherbe, and I, tasted a little champagne 
which Villiers insisted on offering to us. Then 
the Rev. Pere Sylvestre came to celebrate the 
religious marriage. And then it was that we 
had an opportunity of realizing the priest's 
kindness of heart. Villiers' wife used to 
spend the day with him. In spite of her 
false position, the Brothers of St. Jean shut 
their eyes to this infringement of the letter of 
their rules. But of course her visits had to 
end with the day ; she had to leave at twilight, 
and this was a heartbreak to the unhappy 
man, who dreaded dying alone in the night. 
When he had pronounced the marriage bene- 
diction, the Rev. Pere Sylvestre said in rather 
a hurried voice, 'Although women are not 
allowed to spend the night here as a rule, 
I have obtained permission that now you are 
married you shall not be separated again.' 


The monk had thought of giving this last 
happiness to the dying man. Villiers' eyes 
filled with tears ; he made a gesture, then fell 
back exhausted, almost fainting from fatigue, 
and we left him. 

" I went to see him the next day, and all 
the following days. He could no longer 
speak, but would squeeze your hand gently, 
and look at you with great sad patient eyes. 
The evening before his death he received 
the last sacrament, and lay half-conscious, his 
wan face grown hollow and his throat rattling. 
I felt the end was very near, but overwhelmed 
as I was I had to hurry away, for it was very 
late, and the convent was closing for the 

" A ring at the bell early next morning 
made me jump out of bed. ' Villiers is dead,' 
I said to myself, and it was too true. His 
wife sank sobbing into a chair in my room. 

" What more shall I say ? Better say 
nothing of the literary vultures who settled 
on that corpse, of the reporters who used to 
come daily to await his decease and place 
their wares, who were now able to draw 


their pay, and cease their constant calls of 

" Little use either in telling you about the 
funeral, at which the mourners, Mallarme, 
Dierx, and I, sheltered the poor unconscious 
orphan boy as best we could from the pelting 
rain. And yet I will say one other word 
concerning that funeral ceremony, at which 
the Rev. Pere Sylvestre pronounced the 
benediction, in the Church of St. Francois 
Xavier. Our own resources being exhausted, 
we applied, Gustave Guiches and I, to the 
office of the ' Figaro,' and M. Magnard, 
with a kindly courtesy which I never can 
forget, offered to place at our disposal the 
sum necessary to defray the expenses of the 
decent burial of our friend. 

" Others, my dear sir, will give you more 
complete information concerning Villiers' life, 
and will furnish you with the details of that 
extraordinary existence, starving, forlorn, 
penniless, and clouded by troubles so great 
as to make his condition at times without 
parallel in its misery. I have confined my- 
self to those sad incidents which immediately 


preceded his death, and, as you have narrated 
the beginning of his life, so I relate to you 
its close. 

"In conclusion, dear sir, I have to wish 
your book good luck, and I do it with all my 
heart. May your work kindle some spark of 
regret for its own injustice in that public 
which so resolutely refused to acknowledge 
the talent of Villiers before his death. 
"Believe me, etc., 


The next day, Tuesday, 2oth August, 1889, 
a few hours before the burial, M. Henri de 
Lavedan, a young writer whom Villiers de 
1'Isle Adam had inspired with one of those 
enthusiastic attachments which he alone could 
create, asked permission to gaze once more 
on the features of the dead man who had 
been so dear to him, and prayed long in the 
quiet little room. I desire to place here, as 
the conclusion of the work in which I have 
endeavoured to outline the life of that great 
believer and great artist, the Comte Philippe 
Auguste Matthias de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, 


these lines instinct with deep and sincere 
feeling, which were written immediately after 
this farewell visit : 

" On an August morning, wet and dreary 
as a November evening, in the house of 
the Brothers of St. Jean de Dieu, which stands 
in the quiet quarter of the ' Invalides,' the 
brown-robed monk gently closed the door 
behind me, and I saw before me Villiers de 
1'Isle Adam lying on his deathbed. We are 
alone together, he and I. The little room is 
very quiet, clean with the cleanliness of the 
cloister and the death-chamber coldly calm. 
On the chimney-piece the flame of the candles 
burns high and motionless, undisturbed by any 
breath of air ; and the half-closed eyes of the 
gifted scoffer who shall scoff no more, gazing 
lifelessly at the coffin waiting on the floor, 
seem to contemplate it as though it were a 
friend. I kneel on a prie-dieu, and gaze 
on the face of the master I have known 
and loved. The narrow bed on which he 
died is all too wide for his poor body, ema- 
ciated by long and cruel suffering. But the 


proud and beautiful head, whose great fore- 
head seems to have been carved out by death 
for posterity in the firmest and whitest of 
marbles, stands out with a royal dignity. 
Sightless and voiceless as it is, bereft of 
thought, of everything that made it glorious, 
that splendid head still seems to fill the room. 
It seems to be the head of him who Villiers 
would have been, had he lived, and fought, 
and sung, in one of those ages of faith which 
he loved, and loved with the bitter love of the 
exile. It was as solemnly beautiful under the 
shadow of those cotton curtains, as it would 
have been under a gold-fringed dais, and I 
could have fancied I beheld the corpse of one 
of his ancestors, a Villiers de 1'Isle Adam of 
the crusading times, who, worn out by fever, 
fatigue, long marches, wounds, and thirst, had 
at last, on some burning shore of Palestine, 
rendered up his gallant soul to God who 
called it. 

" Visions and beliefs. These were the 
whole of Villiers' being. As I looked at 
him lying there with a poor rosary in his 
folded hands, his whole frame stretched out 


with a tired air (betokening as much weari- 
ness as resignation), I could not but remember 
that he was a steadfast Christian, believing, 
and practising what he believed. It was his 
faith alone which kept him straight to the 
end of the book of his life, to the last line, 
and to his last breath, without a blot on the 
escutcheon which descends to his son as stain- 
less as he inherited it from his own father. 

"And I imagine that the severe and noble 
expression on the calm features of this Chris- 
tian man of letters comes of the joy of feeling 
he is free, delivered at last from this life of 
emptiness, of folly, of many pangs, which 
brought him nothing, neither health, nor 
wealth, nor love, nor glory. 

" Death did not come upon Villiers un- 
awares ; he watched its slow approach with 
perfect calmness. He bore the Cross of Malta ; 
he was well prepared to meet the King of 
Terrors, and when he drew near and stood 
before him, he received the accolade fearlessly, 
like a soldier and a gentleman, hoping perhaps 
that his reward was beginning. He knew, in 
his humble trust, that the hour had come for 


his own judgment on high, for that of his 
work here below, and doubtless he repeated 
mentally that motto of Hassan-ben-Sabbah 
which he placed at the head of his own poem, 
' Azrael ' ' O Death ! those who are about to 
live salute thee ! ' " 



Celegrapbu BMress : 

Stnilocks, London, 


December ffyj 






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. 11,14,17 
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. . 8,9 


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13- T 4. l6 


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. 6, 10 



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